By Elizabeth Gondar
In today’s age of technology, it’s all about being connected. Millions of miles of cables and wires stretch across the globe providing power to buildings, streetlights and even cars. Most people barely give these cables a second thought until the power goes out or the Wi-Fi stops working, but UCF Associate Professor Jayan Thomas couldn’t get them out of his head.
In 2014, he was working on inventing copper foils that would act as supercapacitors — think of a battery that is made to provide a large burst of power in a short amount of time. Realizing that most cables are made out of the same copper material he was working with, he wondered if our everyday cables could double as energy storage devices.
Bringing this knowledge back to his research lab at UCF, he invented the first cable-based capacitor. These thin, copper wires can transmit and store energy — and he hopes they can make a big impact in renewable energy and clean technology.
“That’s the real pleasure for an inventor. You have a scientific idea, you worked on that idea and made it into a device, and then that device is used for a commissioned product. That is what I’m looking forward to,” Thomas says.
However, cable-based capacitors attached to existing wires could use their stored energy to provide that extra boost needed, allowing the battery to continue functioning at a steady rate and greatly reducing the overall cost to replace parts.
Thomas recruited Joe Sleppy ’18 to start Capacitech Energy and to help turn his invention into a commercial product.
Sleppy, an electrical engineering student at the time, already had business experience (starting his first company when he was 16) and knew that without proper funding, Capacitech could not move on to the next level. By winning first place in UCF’s 2016 Joust New Venture Competition, they received the necessary funds to license the intellectual property and begin the process of moving to market.
In 2018, a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation helped Capacitech’s team expand to include Isaiah Oladeji ’99 and to collaborate with Thomas’ lab to produce the commercial version of the cable-based capacitor that Capacitech is selling today.
As a result of the team’s effort, Capacitech has been recognized as one of the top 30 startups in the world by InnoEnergy. Sleppy credits his time at UCF with connecting him to the people and resources needed to lead the business.
“Education is more than just what you learn,” Sleppy says. “It’s about who you meet through your coursework and using the opportunities that present themselves.”
Capacitech recently built a manufacturing line in Orlando to fill larger orders and is raising money to further scale the company.
Associate Professor Jayan Thomas, Joe Sleppy ’18 and Isaiah Oladeji ’99
Building energy storage into the infrastructure of the world to prolong clean technology’s operating life while reducing the overall costs of sustainable technology.
Thomas was researching how to make copper foils into energy storage devices. “But I was seeing wires everywhere while I was on a walk around my home. I realized that these cables are mostly made up of copper, so why don’t we convert this copper into an energy storage device instead?” Thomas says.
National Science Foundation: $225,000
NSF Innovation Corps: $50,000
Starter Studio: $25,000