According to a study published in September by the Journal of Naval Engineering University, Chinese scientists have developed the world’s most powerful weapons power system. This battery can release its entire charge in 12-36 seconds and takes merely two to three minutes to recharge.
Many might first think of electric vehicles (EVs) when hearing about such a battery. With fast charging, an EV can recharge within minutes, almost equivalent to the time taken to refuel gasoline, reducing the resistance to EV adoption. Furthermore, the fast discharge indicates the potential for greater power output for the vehicle.
However, the primary application for this rapid charging and discharging battery is not EVs, but rather the emerging high-energy weapons. Among its potential applications is the electromagnetic catapult which can accelerate a 30-40 tonne fighter jet to takeoff speeds of 240 km/h in just 2-3 seconds. While the energy consumption may seem reasonable, the sheer power is staggering.
Such batteries would be ideal energy storage systems for electromagnetic catapults. The US Navy’s Ford-class carriers utilize flywheel energy storage for their catapults, which are large, heavy, require significant space, and demand high maintenance. Flywheels also need to be paired to offset the torque they generate. While they address energy storage needs for electromagnetic catapults, they present numerous challenges.
With batteries, these challenges are minimized. Battery packs can be flexibly combined via cables, even in irregular spaces. Beyond electromagnetic catapults, other devices like rail guns, coil guns, laser weapons, and high-energy microwave weapons also require this type of energy storage.
The characteristic feature of these devices is their dispersed arrangement, making flywheel energy storage nearly impossible to implement due to their static nature. On the other hand, batteries, which can be situated almost anywhere, are far more adaptable and efficient.
Reflecting on the breakthroughs China has made in electromagnetic catapults, rail guns, and laser weapons, in conjunction with these super batteries, it’s clear that they are paving the way for the next generation of naval ships.
So why did the US opt for flywheel storage over different battery types?
While we’ve mostly discussed naval applications, it’s interesting to note that when the US initially chose an all-electric system for their ships, they adopted a medium-voltage AC system, considering the convenience of power transmission between devices. The absence of advanced Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistors (IGBT) and Silicon Carbide (SiC) semiconductors at the time influenced this decision. This choice later led to complications, especially when integrating direct current (DC) storage like lithium batteries.
China, having matured IGBT technology and access to SiC, conveniently opted for a DC system for their naval vessels, making energy storage incredibly efficient and versatile.
In 2021, the Ford-class aircraft carrier experienced a significant system failure, rendering four of its catapults inoperable for five days, highlighting the pitfalls of its AC system.
While the focus has largely been on naval applications, this high-speed discharge battery also has immense potential on land, especially for high-energy weapons such as tactical lasers. These batteries can offer a higher power output with fewer cells. Conventional lithium batteries often sacrifice discharge speed for capacity. However, with high-speed discharge batteries, optimal capacity and discharge speed can be achieved, thus enhancing combat power.