Lamborghini is an iconic brand that represents the height of German and Italian engineering, innovation, and design. Green technology, though, probably doesn’t come to mind when picturing the sporty rides made by this company. The new Lamborghini Sián hybrid, complete with a $2 million price tag, wants to change that.
In the search for new ways to power cars with less reliance on fossil fuels, car manufacturers are investing in their R&D departments to generate new battery and engine designs. With the Sián, Lamborghini is trying out a variation on the bulkier, slower charging lithium ion batteries that currently dominate the market.
The solution with which they’re experimenting is supercapacitors. With a name like that, it’s a natural choice for supercars. One advantage of supercapacitors is that they weigh about one-third as much as a traditional battery. That’s a win off the starting line when calculating weight distribution. Located behind the seats at the front of the Sián’s engine, the supercapacitor is accessible without being noticeable.
The second, and critical, feature of supercapacitors is the way they transfer power. In contrast to batteries that charge very slowly and then hold it steadily, capacitors fill with power fast and release it quickly. The capacitor mechanism is completely different from a traditional battery. Think of it as two metal plates with energy in between them. The magnetic energy repels the plates, keeping them separate. Drawing on the basic design of a normal capacitor, supercapacitors offer plates that can absorb more energy, allowing for efficient energy storage. The space between the plates is also more efficient—you might say “super” efficient.
Weight and power are both great reasons for the Sián to use the supercapacitor technology, but we are talking about a hybrid here, so the discussion has to include sustainability. Unlike other car batteries, supercapacitors don’t contain harmful chemicals or toxic metals that are difficult to dispose of. Plus, in contrast to batteries that degrade over time, supercapacitors can be charged and discharged almost infinitely. That means basically no battery waste, a potentially major environmental benefit.
Of course, Lamborghini isn’t looking to directly compete with commercial electric or hybrids, since most people aren’t in the $2 million car market. Instead, their goal is incorporate the benefits of electric power into the world of supercars. Like many electric cars, the Sián produces energy while braking. During acceleration, it practically erupts, delivering the blast of power high-performance drivers expect. While the V12 engine still does the majority of the work, the hybrid components help the Sián explode from zero to sixty in just under three seconds and hit top speeds of 217 mph.
Electric car enthusiasts might note that these specs can’t compete with the upcoming Tesla Roadster, which can make 0-60 in just over two seconds and reach a top speed of 250 mph, all for a price tag of just $200,000—ten times less than the Sián. The extra $1.8 million seems like an awful lot to pay for a flashy exterior design masking inferior performance, though that may not be an impediment for die hard, wealthy Lambo fans.
Supercapacitors offer some promise, but they’re a long way from the mass market. They’re expensive, and with their short energy retention, they can’t power the Sián—or any other car—without help from another power source. Lamborghini is working with the experts at M.I.T. to expand the capabilities and possibly create the first electric supercar sometime down the road.