British scientists are claiming a breakthrough that could put electric cars on a par with their petrol and diesel equivalents both for range and refuelling times.

Research by University of Surrey and Augmented Optics Ltd, in collaboration with the University of Bristol, has developed a super capacitor which they say is 1,000 to 10,000 times more powerful than the existing battery alternative.

Supercapacitor buses are already being used in China, but they have a very limited range, needing to stop every two or three stops.

The scientists say the new technology, which uses a polymer adapted from the principles used to make soft contact lenses, could mean they only need to recharge every 20-30 stops and that it will only take a few seconds.

When used in cars, they say it would enable a journey from London to Edinburgh without the need to recharge, and when it did recharge the operation would only take minutes.

They add that the technology would also have applications across aerospace, energy generation, and household applications such as mobile phones, flat screen electronic devices, and biosensors

In a statement from Surrey University it said: “Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX, has previously stated his belief that supercapacitors are likely to be the technology for future electric air transportation. We believe that the present scientific advance could make that vision a reality.”

A company called SuperCapacitor Materials Ltd has been set up, and hopes to build a full-scale working prototype next year. The company has discussed plans for a UK factory, with an estimated cost of £25m.