Story at a glance

  • Lamborghini is developing an electric supercar that compromises none of the performance the automaker is known for.
  • Traditional lithium-ion batteries get hot and degrade when driven too hard and are too bulky and heavy to power a supercar, the company’s engineers say.
  • In partnership with Lamborghini, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a new material that is a step toward the ultra-high performance electric vehicles of the future.

As greenhouse gases continue to flood Earth’s atmosphere, it is perhaps a welcome sign of the times that Lamborghini is trying to create an emissions free supercar.

The Italian automaker recently unveiled a hybrid model using new technology the company says could one day be scaled up to power an all-electric Lamborghini, CNN reports.

Existing electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries, but Maurizio Reggiani, chief technical officer at Lamborghini, told CNN they are too large, too heavy and can’t sustain sufficiently high performance. To make a supercar, Reggiani said that not only is something lighter and more svelte required, but the power source also must be able to endure the rigors of high speed, intense acceleration and repetitive hard braking.

To work on the problem, Lamborghini started collaborating with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2017, and they have come up with two possible solutions. The first is a battery made of carbon nanotubes that can conserve weight by pulling double duty. The carbon battery is strong enough to be used as the material for some of the car’s internal body parts. The second idea involves supercapacitors, which store energy differently than traditional batteries.

The primary advantage of a supercapacitor, apart from its futuristic sounding name, is its ability to pump out electricity faster than a battery — without heating up or degrading. These qualities are crucial for supercars. "A supercapacitor with the same power is three times lighter than the normal lithium-ion battery," Reggiani told CNN.

Where existing supercapacitors fall behind batteries is in the realm of energy storage. In some applications, supercapacitors can get over their difficulties with storing enough energy by using their other superpower: fast charging. In city buses, for example, supercapacitors could charge up enough to keep going at bus stops during the time it took passengers to get on and off. But if you’re trying to produce a car capable of doing record setting laps at Le Mans, that’s out of the question.

But Lamborghini announced this week that the MIT researchers have created a new material that may facilitate supercapacitors with double or triple the energy storage of the current crop. 

The progress is encouraging but it’s still just 20 percent of the energy storage per unit of volume of lithium-ion batteries. 

The company’s new V12 hybrid supercar, the Sián, uses a supercapacitor instead of batteries to store and discharge energy to add power to the car's engine. In 2017, the Lamborghini showed a concept car that could one day feature supercapacitors and the structural carbon batteries.

It’s unclear when Lamborghini might offer a fully electric car, but their vision is uncompromising. 

"The full electric vehicle, for us, must be like this," Reggiani told CNN. "Otherwise, it cannot be a Lamborghini."

While this technology is being developed in the name of high-performance cars it could eventually trickle down to make consumer models more energy efficient by lightening the load imposed by heavy lithium-ion batteries.

Published on Dec 05, 2019