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Innovators | Clean technology

The supercharged heart of the electric automobile

Riccardo Signorelli, FastCAP Systems

Riccardo Signorelli of FastCAP Systems

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Riccardo Signorelli of FastCAP Systems

THE FUTURE OF ELECTRIC and hybrid cars depends on one key component: the storage battery, a device that hasn’t changed that much since the 19th century.

But now, it may be time to say goodbye to the battery as we know it. Using energy storage ideas he developed at MIT Laboratories, engineer and inventor Riccardo Signorelli has developed a battery with a lot more juice.

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Through his company, the 30-employee FastCAP Systems Inc. of Cambridge, Signorelli, 33, is bringing to market batteries that are supercharged through nanotechnology. Called “ultracaps,’’ the batteries are built with microscopic carbon nanotubes for a bigger jolt. “Adding an ultracap to handle the acceleration will make hybrids a lot more fun to drive overnight,’’ he said.

Capacitors are safe, quickly recharge, and last long, but have only a limited ability to store power. The FastCAP Systems “superbattery’’ promises three times the zap at a fifth of the cost. “Batteries have been the weak link,’’ said Signorelli. “We simply do not have proven energy storage technologies today that are suitable for our needs, both in vehicles and in grid storage.’’

Costly batteries have made electric cars into luxury items, according to Signorelli. Innovative ultracapacitor technology, he said, will bring “hybridization for the masses.’’

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