Tag Archives: supercapacitors

Yarns of niobium nanowire for small electronic device boost at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US)

It turns out that this research concerning supercapacitors is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia (Canada) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). From a July 7, 2015 news item by Stuart Milne for Azonano,

A team of researchers from MIT and University of British Columbia has discovered an innovative method to deliver short bursts of high power required by wearable electronic devices.

Such devices are used for monitoring health and fitness and as such are rapidly growing in the consumer electronics industry. However, a major drawback of these devices is that they are integrated with small batteries, which fail to deliver sufficient amount of power required for data transmission.

According to the research team, one way to resolve this issue is to develop supercapacitors, which are capable of storing and releasing short bursts of electrical power required to transmit data from smartphones, computers, heart-rate monitors, and other wearable devices. supercapacitors can also prove useful for other applications where short bursts of high power is required, for instance autonomous microrobots.

A July 7, 2015 MIT news release provides more detail about the research,

The new approach uses yarns, made from nanowires of the element niobium, as the electrodes in tiny supercapacitors (which are essentially pairs of electrically conducting fibers with an insulator between). The concept is described in a paper in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Ian W. Hunter, doctoral student Seyed M. Mirvakili, and three others at the University of British Columbia.

Nanotechnology researchers have been working to increase the performance of supercapacitors for the past decade. Among nanomaterials, carbon-based nanoparticles — such as carbon nanotubes and graphene — have shown promising results, but they suffer from relatively low electrical conductivity, Mirvakili says.

In this new work, he and his colleagues have shown that desirable characteristics for such devices, such as high power density, are not unique to carbon-based nanoparticles, and that niobium nanowire yarn is a promising an alternative.

“Imagine you’ve got some kind of wearable health-monitoring system,” Hunter says, “and it needs to broadcast data, for example using Wi-Fi, over a long distance.” At the moment, the coin-sized batteries used in many small electronic devices have very limited ability to deliver a lot of power at once, which is what such data transmissions need.

“Long-distance Wi-Fi requires a fair amount of power,” says Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor in Thermodynamics in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, “but it may not be needed for very long.” Small batteries are generally poorly suited for such power needs, he adds.

“We know it’s a problem experienced by a number of companies in the health-monitoring or exercise-monitoring space. So an alternative is to go to a combination of a battery and a capacitor,” Hunter says: the battery for long-term, low-power functions, and the capacitor for short bursts of high power. Such a combination should be able to either increase the range of the device, or — perhaps more important in the marketplace — to significantly reduce size requirements.

The new nanowire-based supercapacitor exceeds the performance of existing batteries, while occupying a very small volume. “If you’ve got an Apple Watch and I shave 30 percent off the mass, you may not even notice,” Hunter says. “But if you reduce the volume by 30 percent, that would be a big deal,” he says: Consumers are very sensitive to the size of wearable devices.

The innovation is especially significant for small devices, Hunter says, because other energy-storage technologies — such as fuel cells, batteries, and flywheels — tend to be less efficient, or simply too complex to be practical when reduced to very small sizes. “We are in a sweet spot,” he says, with a technology that can deliver big bursts of power from a very small device.

Ideally, Hunter says, it would be desirable to have a high volumetric power density (the amount of power stored in a given volume) and high volumetric energy density (the amount of energy in a given volume). “Nobody’s figured out how to do that,” he says. However, with the new device, “We have fairly high volumetric power density, medium energy density, and a low cost,” a combination that could be well suited for many applications.

Niobium is a fairly abundant and widely used material, Mirvakili says, so the whole system should be inexpensive and easy to produce. “The fabrication cost is cheap,” he says. Other groups have made similar supercapacitors using carbon nanotubes or other materials, but the niobium yarns are stronger and 100 times more conductive. Overall, niobium-based supercapacitors can store up to five times as much power in a given volume as carbon nanotube versions.

Niobium also has a very high melting point — nearly 2,500 degrees Celsius — so devices made from these nanowires could potentially be suitable for use in high-temperature applications.

In addition, the material is highly flexible and could be woven into fabrics, enabling wearable forms; individual niobium nanowires are just 140 nanometers in diameter — 140 billionths of a meter across, or about one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

So far, the material has been produced only in lab-scale devices. The next step, already under way, is to figure out how to design a practical, easily manufactured version, the researchers say.

“The work is very significant in the development of smart fabrics and future wearable technologies,” says Geoff Spinks, a professor of engineering at the University of Wollongong, in Australia, who was not associated with this research. This paper, he adds, “convincingly demonstrates the impressive performance of niobium-based fiber supercapacitors.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

High-Performance Supercapacitors from Niobium Nanowire Yarns by Seyed M. Mirvakili, Mehr Negar Mirvakili, Peter Englezos, John D. W. Madden, and Ian W. Hunter. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 2015, 7 (25), pp 13882–13888 DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b02327 Publication Date (Web): June 12, 2015

Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Combining the best qualities of batteries and supercapacitors at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)

There’s a reason why I’ve been feeling impatient about batteries and supercapacitors according to an April 2, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

The dramatic rise of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other personal and portable electronics has brought battery technology to the forefront of electronics research. Even as devices have improved by leaps and bounds, the slow pace of battery development has held back technological progress.

Now, researchers at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute have successfully combined two nanomaterials to create a new energy storage medium that combines the best qualities of batteries and supercapacitors.

An April 1, 2015 UCLA news release, which originated the news item, describes the challenge and how the scientists addressed it (Note: A link has been removed),

Supercapacitors are electrochemical components that can charge in seconds rather than hours and can be used for 1 million recharge cycles. Unlike batteries, however, they do not store enough power to run our computers and smartphones.

The new hybrid supercapacitor stores large amounts of energy, recharges quickly and can last for more than 10,000 recharge cycles. The CNSI scientists also created a microsupercapacitor that is small enough to fit in wearable or implantable devices. Just one-fifth the thickness of a sheet of paper, it is capable of holding more than twice as much charge as a typical thin-film lithium battery.

The study, led by Richard Kaner, distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry and materials science and engineering, and Maher El-Kady, a postdoctoral scholar, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The microsupercapacitor is a new evolving configuration, a very small rechargeable power source with a much higher capacity than previous lithium thin-film microbatteries,” El-Kady said.

The new components combine laser-scribed graphene, or LSG — a material that can hold an electrical charge, is very conductive, and charges and recharges very quickly — with manganese dioxide, which is currently used in alkaline batteries because it holds a lot of charge and is cheap and plentiful. They can be fabricated without the need for extreme temperatures or the expensive “dry rooms” required to produce today’s supercapacitors.

“Let’s say you wanted to put a small amount of electrical current into an adhesive bandage for drug release or healing assistance technology,” Kaner said. “The microsupercapacitor is so thin you could put it inside the bandage to supply the current. You could also recharge it quickly and use it for a very long time.”

The researchers found that the supercapacitor could quickly store electrical charge generated by a solar cell during the day, hold the charge until evening and then power an LED overnight, showing promise for off-grid street lighting.

“The LSG–manganese-dioxide capacitors can store as much electrical charge as a lead acid battery, yet can be recharged in seconds, and they store about six times the capacity of state-of-the-art commercially available supercapacitors,” Kaner said. “This scalable approach for fabricating compact, reliable, energy-dense supercapacitors shows a great deal of promise in real-world applications, and we’re very excited about the possibilities for greatly improving personal electronics technology in the near future.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Engineering three-dimensional hybrid supercapacitors and microsupercapacitors for high-performance integrated energy storage by Maher F. El-Kady, Melanie Ihns, Mengping Li, Jee Youn Hwang, Mir F. Mousavi, Lindsay Chaney, Andrew T. Lech, and Richard B. Kaner. Published online before print March 23, 2015, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1420398112 PNAS March 23, 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.

One last bit, Dexter Johnson in an April 3, 2015 post on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) provides some insight into the research,

The story of graphene in supercapacitors can be represented by the old adage: its greatest strength is its greatest weakness. Of course, the name of the game in supercapacitor energy density is surface area. The greater the surface area, the greater number of ions you can store on the electrodes. While graphene has a theoretical surface area of 2630 square meters per gram, this density is only possible with a single, standalone graphene sheet.

But you can’t actually use a standalone sheet for the electrode of a supercapacitor because it will result in a very low volumetric capacitance. ….

So, while the 2-D characteristic of graphene may limit its usable surface area for supercapacitors, it does offer a way to make supercapacitors with small dimensions, something that would be impossible with activated carbon.

It is this strength that the CNSI researchers are aiming to exploit in their supercapacitor, which is small enough to be used as a wearable or implantable device. …

I recommend reading Dexter’s post in its entirety.

Supercapacitors* on automobiles

Queensland University of Technology* (QUT; Australia) researchers are hopeful they can adapt supercapacitors in the form of a fine film tor use in electric vehicles making them more energy-efficient. From a Nov. 6, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

A car powered by its own body panels could soon be driving on our roads after a breakthrough in nanotechnology research by a QUT team.

Researchers have developed lightweight “supercapacitors” that can be combined with regular batteries to dramatically boost the power of an electric car.

The discovery was made by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Jinzhang Liu, Professor Nunzio Motta and PhD researcher Marco Notarianni, from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty — Institute for Future Environments, and PhD researcher Francesca Mirri and Professor Matteo Pasquali, from Rice University in Houston, in the United States.

A Nov. 6, 2014 QUT news release, which originated the news item, describes supercapacitors, the research, and the need for this research in more detail,

The supercapacitors – a “sandwich” of electrolyte between two all-carbon electrodes – were made into a thin and extremely strong film with a high power density.

The film could be embedded in a car’s body panels, roof, doors, bonnet and floor – storing enough energy to turbocharge an electric car’s battery in just a few minutes.

“Vehicles need an extra energy spurt for acceleration, and this is where supercapacitors come in. They hold a limited amount of charge, but they are able to deliver it very quickly, making them the perfect complement to mass-storage batteries,” he said.

“Supercapacitors offer a high power output in a short time, meaning a faster acceleration rate of the car and a charging time of just a few minutes, compared to several hours for a standard electric car battery.”

Dr Liu said currently the “energy density” of a supercapacitor is lower than a standard lithium ion (Li-Ion) battery, but its “high power density”, or ability to release power in a short time, is “far beyond” a conventional battery.

“Supercapacitors are presently combined with standard Li-Ion batteries to power electric cars, with a substantial weight reduction and increase in performance,” he said.

“In the future, it is hoped the supercapacitor will be developed to store more energy than a Li-Ion battery while retaining the ability to release its energy up to 10 times faster – meaning the car could be entirely powered by the supercapacitors in its body panels.

“After one full charge this car should be able to run up to 500km – similar to a petrol-powered car and more than double the current limit of an electric car.”

Dr Liu said the technology would also potentially be used for rapid charges of other battery-powered devices.

“For example, by putting the film on the back of a smart phone to charge it extremely quickly,” he said.

The discovery may be a game-changer for the automotive industry, with significant impacts on financial, as well as environmental, factors.

“We are using cheap carbon materials to make supercapacitors and the price of industry scale production will be low,” Professor Motta said.

“The price of Li-Ion batteries cannot decrease a lot because the price of Lithium remains high. This technique does not rely on metals and other toxic materials either, so it is environmentally friendly if it needs to be disposed of.”

A Nov. 10, 2014 news item on Azonano describes the Rice University (Texas, US) contribution to this work,

Rice University scientist Matteo Pasquali and his team contributed to two new papers that suggest the nano-infused body of a car may someday power the car itself.

Rice supplied high-performance carbon nanotube films and input on the device design to scientists at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia for the creation of lightweight films containing supercapacitors that charge quickly and store energy. The inventors hope to use the films as part of composite car doors, fenders, roofs and other body panels to significantly boost the power of electric vehicles.

A Nov. 7, 2014 Rice University news release, which originated the news item, offers a few technical details about the film being proposed for use as a supercapacitor on car panels,

Researchers in the Queensland lab of scientist Nunzio Motta combined exfoliated graphene and entangled multiwalled carbon nanotubes combined with plastic, paper and a gelled electrolyte to produce the flexible, solid-state supercapacitors.

“Nunzio’s team is making important advances in the energy-storage area, and we were glad to see that our carbon nanotube film technology was able to provide breakthrough current collection capability to further improve their devices,” said Pasquali, a Rice professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry. “This nice collaboration is definitely bottom-up, as one of Nunzio’s Ph.D. students, Marco Notarianni, spent a year in our lab during his Master of Science research period a few years ago.”

“We built on our earlier work on CNT films published in ACS Nano, where we developed a solution-based technique to produce carbon nanotube films for transparent electrodes in displays,” said Francesca Mirri, a graduate student in Pasquali’s research group and co-author of the papers. “Now we see that carbon nanotube films produced by the solution-processing method can be applied in several areas.”

As currently designed, the supercapacitors can be charged through regenerative braking and are intended to work alongside the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles, said co-author Notarianni, a Queensland graduate student.

“Vehicles need an extra energy spurt for acceleration, and this is where supercapacitors come in. They hold a limited amount of charge, but with their high power density, deliver it very quickly, making them the perfect complement to mass-storage batteries,” he said.

Because hundreds of film supercapacitors are used in the panel, the electric energy required to power the car’s battery can be stored in the car body. “Supercapacitors offer a high power output in a short time, meaning a faster acceleration rate of the car and a charging time of just a few minutes, compared with several hours for a standard electric car battery,” Notarianni said.

The researchers foresee such panels will eventually replace standard lithium-ion batteries. “In the future, it is hoped the supercapacitor will be developed to store more energy than an ionic battery while retaining the ability to release its energy up to 10 times faster – meaning the car would be powered by the supercapacitors in its body panels,” said Queensland postdoctoral researcher Jinzhang Liu.

Here’s an image of graphene infused with carbon nantoubes used in the supercapacitor film,

A scanning electron microscope image shows freestanding graphene film with carbon nanotubes attached. The material is part of a project to create lightweight films containing super capacitors that charge quickly and store energy. Courtesy of Nunzio Motta/Queensland University of Technology - See more at: http://news.rice.edu/2014/11/07/supercharged-panels-may-power-cars/#sthash.0RPsIbMY.dpuf

A scanning electron microscope image shows freestanding graphene film with carbon nanotubes attached. The material is part of a project to create lightweight films containing super capacitors that charge quickly and store energy. Courtesy of Nunzio Motta/Queensland University of Technology

Here are links to and citations for the two papers published by the researchers,

Graphene-based supercapacitor with carbon nanotube film as highly efficient current collector by Marco Notarianni, Jinzhang Liu, Francesca Mirri, Matteo Pasquali, and Nunzio Motta. Nanotechnology Volume 25 Number 43 doi:10.1088/0957-4484/25/43/435405

High performance all-carbon thin film supercapacitors by Jinzhang Liu, Francesca Mirri, Marco Notarianni, Matteo Pasquali, and Nunzio Motta. Journal of Power Sources Volume 274, 15 January 2015, Pages 823–830 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2014.10.104

Both articles are behind paywalls.

One final note, Dexter Johnson provides some insight into issues with graphene-based supercapacitors and what makes this proposed application attractive in his Nov. 7, 2014 post on the Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website; Note: Links have been removed),

The hope has been that someone could make graphene electrodes for supercapacitors that would boost their energy density into the range of chemical-based batteries. The supercapacitors currently on the market have on average an energy density around 28 Wh/kg, whereas a Li-ion battery holds about 200Wh/kg. That’s a big gap to fill.

The research in the field thus far has indicated that graphene’s achievable surface area in real devices—the factor that determines how many ions a supercapacitor electrode can store, and therefore its energy density—is not any better than traditional activated carbon. In fact, it may not be much better than a used cigarette butt.

Though graphene may not help increase supercapacitors’ energy density, its usefulness in this application may lie in the fact that its natural high conductivity will allow superconductors to operate at higher frequencies than those that are currently on the market. Another likely benefit that graphene will yield comes from the fact that it can be structured and scaled down, unlike other supercapacitor materials.

I recommend reading Dexter’s commentary in its entirety.

*’University of Queensland’ corrected to “Queensland University of Technology’ on Nov. 10, 2014 at 1335 PST.

* ‘super-capacitor’ changed to ‘supercapacitor’ on April 29, 2015.

Next supercapacitor: crumpled graphene?

An Oct. 3, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily features the use of graphene as a possible supercapacitor,

When someone crumples a sheet of paper, that usually means it’s about to be thrown away. But researchers have now found that crumpling a piece of graphene “paper” — a material formed by bonding together layers of the two-dimensional form of carbon — can actually yield new properties that could be useful for creating extremely stretchable supercapacitors to store energy for flexible electronic devices.

The finding is reported in the journal Scientific Reports by MIT’s {Massachusetts Institute of Technology] Xuanhe Zhao, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and civil and environmental engineering, and four other authors. The new, flexible superconductors should be easy and inexpensive to fabricate, the team says.

An Oct. 3, 2014 MIT news release by David Chandler (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains the technology at more length,

“Many people are exploring graphene paper: It’s a good candidate for making supercapacitors, because of its large surface area per mass,” Zhao says. Now, he says, the development of flexible electronic devices, such as wearable or implantable biomedical sensors or monitoring devices, will require flexible power-storage systems.

Like batteries, supercapacitors can store electrical energy, but they primarily do so electrostatically, rather than chemically — meaning they can deliver their energy faster than batteries can. Now Zhao and his team have demonstrated that by crumpling a sheet of graphene paper into a chaotic mass of folds, they can make a supercapacitor that can easily be bent, folded, or stretched to as much as 800 percent of its original size. The team has made a simple supercapacitor using this method as a proof of principle.

The material can be crumpled and flattened up to 1,000 times, the team has demonstrated, without a significant loss of performance. “The graphene paper is pretty robust,” Zhao says, “and we can achieve very large deformations over multiple cycles.” Graphene, a structure of pure carbon just one atom thick with its carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal array, is one of the strongest materials known.

To make the crumpled graphene paper, a sheet of the material was placed in a mechanical device that first compressed it in one direction, creating a series of parallel folds or pleats, and then in the other direction, leading to a chaotic, rumpled surface. When stretched, the material’s folds simply smooth themselves out.

Forming a capacitor requires two conductive layers — in this case, two sheets of crumpled graphene paper — with an insulating layer in between, which in this demonstration was made from a hydrogel material. Like the crumpled graphene, the hydrogel is highly deformable and stretchable, so the three layers remain in contact even while being flexed and pulled.

Though this initial demonstration was specifically to make a supercapacitor, the same crumpling technique could be applied to other uses, Zhao says. For example, the crumpled graphene material might be used as one electrode in a flexible battery, or could be used to make a stretchable sensor for specific chemical or biological molecules.

Here is a link to and a citation for the paper,

Stretchable and High-Performance Supercapacitors with Crumpled Graphene Papers by Jianfeng Zang, Changyong Cao, Yaying Feng, Jie Liu, & Xuanhe Zhao. Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 6492 doi:10.1038/srep06492 Published 01 October 2014

This is an open access article.

ETA Oct. 8, 2014: Dexter Johnson of the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website has an Oct. 7, 2014 post where he comments about the ‘flexibility’ aspect of this work.

Hemp as a substitute for graphene in supercapacitors

As a member of the Cannabis plant family, hemp has an undeserved reputation due to its cousin’s (marijuana) notoriety and consciousness-altering properties. Hemp is, by contrast, the Puritan in the family, associated by the knowledgeable with virtues of thrift and hard work.

An Aug. 12, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a hemp/supercapacitor presentation at the 248th meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS),

As hemp makes a comeback in the U.S. after a decades-long ban on its cultivation, scientists are reporting that fibers from the plant can pack as much energy and power as graphene, long-touted as the model material for supercapacitors. They’re presenting their research, which a Canadian start-up company is working on scaling up, at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.

David Mitlin, Ph.D., explains that supercapacitors are energy storage devices that have huge potential to transform the way future electronics are powered. Unlike today’s rechargeable batteries, which sip up energy over several hours, supercapacitors can charge and discharge within seconds. But they normally can’t store nearly as much energy as batteries, an important property known as energy density. One approach researchers are taking to boost supercapacitors’ energy density is to design better electrodes. Mitlin’s team has figured out how to make them from certain hemp fibers — and they can hold as much energy as the current top contender: graphene.

An Aug. 12, 2014 ACS news release features David Mitlin, formerly of the University of Alberta (Canada) where this research took place,, Mitlin is now with now with Clarkson University in New York,

“Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin says. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from biowaste using a simple process, and therefore, are much cheaper than graphene.”

The race toward the ideal supercapacitor has largely focused on graphene — a strong, light material made of atom-thick layers of carbon, which when stacked, can be made into electrodes. Scientists are investigating how they can take advantage of graphene’s unique properties to build better solar cells, water filtration systems, touch-screen technology, as well as batteries and supercapacitors. The problem is it’s expensive.

Mitlin’s group decided to see if they could make graphene-like carbons from hemp bast fibers. The fibers come from the inner bark of the plant and often are discarded from Canada’s fast-growing industries that use hemp for clothing, construction materials and other products. …

His team found that if they heated the fibers for 24 hours at a little over 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and then blasted the resulting material with more intense heat, it would exfoliate into carbon nanosheets.

Mitlin’s team built their supercapacitors using the hemp-derived carbons as electrodes and an ionic liquid as the electrolyte. Fully assembled, the devices performed far better than commercial supercapacitors in both energy density and the range of temperatures over which they can work. The hemp-based devices yielded energy densities as high as 12 Watt-hours per kilogram, two to three times higher than commercial counterparts. They also operate over an impressive temperature range, from freezing to more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re past the proof-of-principle stage for the fully functional supercapacitor,” he says. “Now we’re gearing up for small-scale manufacturing.”

I have not been able to confirm the name for Mitlin’s startup but I think it’s called Alta Supercaps (Alta being an abbreviation for Alberta,, amongst other things, and supercaps for supercapacitors) as per the information about a new startup on the Mitlin Group webspace (scroll down to the July 2, 2013 news item) which can still be found on the University of Alberta website (as of Aug. 12, 2014).

For those who would like more technical details, there is this July 2013 article by Mark Crawford for the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers); Note: A link has been removed.

Activated carbons, templated carbons, carbon nanofibers, carbon nanotubes, and graphene have all been intensively studied as materials for supercapacitor electrodes. High manufacturing costs is one issue—another is that the power characteristics of many of these carbons are limited. This is a result of high microporosity, which increases ion transport limitations.

“It is becoming well understood that the key to achieving high power in porous electrodes is to reduce the ion transport limitations” says Mitlin. “Nanomaterials based on graphene and their hybrids have emerged as a new class of promising high-rate electrode candidates—they are, however, too expensive to manufacture compared to activated carbons derived from pyrolysis of agricultural wastes, or from the coking operations.”

Biomass, which mainly contains cellulose and lignin by-products, is widely utilized as a feedstock for producing activated carbons. Mitlin decided to test hemp bast fiber’s unique cellular structure to see if it could produce graphene-like carbon nanosheets.

Hemp fiber waste was pressure-cooked (hydrothermal synthesis) at 180 °C for 24 hours. The resulting carbonized material was treated with potassium hydroxide and then heated to temperatures as high as 800 °C, resulting in the formation of uniquely structured nanosheets. Testing of this material revealed that it discharged 49 kW of power per kg of material—nearly triple what standard commercial electrodes supply, 17 kW/kg.

Mitlin and his team successfully synthesized two-dimensional, yet interconnected, carbon nanosheets with superior electrochemical storage properties comparable to those of state-of-the-art graphene-based electrodes. “We were able to achieve this by employing a biomass precursor with a unique structure—hemp bast fiber,” says Mitlin. “The resultant graphene-like nanosheets possess fundamentally different properties—such as pore size distribution, physical interconnectedness, and electrical conductivity—as compared to conventional biomass-derived activated carbons.”

This image from Wikimedia was used to illustrate the Crawford article,

Hemp bast fiber is a low-cost graphene-like nanomaterial. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hemp bast fiber is a low-cost graphene-like nanomaterial. Image: Wikimedia Commons

It seems to me that over the last few months there have been more than the usual number of supercapacitor stories, which makes the race to create the one that will break through in the marketplace fascinating to observe.

Don’t throw that cigarette butt away—use it to store energy!

I’ve read the news release and briefly skimmed the research paper and cannot find any discussion of how these scientists got the idea to ‘recycle’ used cigarette butts for energy storage (supercapacitors) although the inspiration seems to have its roots in a desire to create better supercapacitors from recycled materials. From an Aug. 5, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

A group of scientists from South Korea have converted used-cigarette butts into a high-performing material that could be integrated into computers, handheld devices, electrical vehicles and wind turbines to store energy.

Presenting their findings today, 5 August 2014, in IOP Publishing’s journal Nanotechnology, the researchers have demonstrated the material’s superior performance compared to commercially available carbon, graphene and carbon nanotubes.

It is hoped the material can be used to coat the electrodes of supercapacitors — electrochemical components that can store extremely large amounts of electrical energy — whilst also offering a solution to the growing environmental problem caused by used-cigarette filters.

An Aug. 5, 2014 Institute of Physics (IOP) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, further describes the situation regarding used cigarette butts and the characteristics that could render them into supercapacitors

It is estimated that as many as 5.6 trillion cigarette butts (equivalent to 766 571 metric tons), are deposited into the environment worldwide every year.

Co-author of the study Professor Jongheop Yi, from Seoul National University, said: “Our study has shown that used cigarette filters can be transformed into a high-performing carbon-based material using a simple one-step process, which simultaneously offers a green solution to meeting the energy demands of society.

“Numerous countries are developing strict regulations to avoid the trillions of toxic and non-biodegradable used cigarette filters that are disposed of into the environment each year; our method is just one way of achieving this.”

Carbon is the most popular material that supercapacitors are composed of, due to its low cost, high surface area, high electrical conductivity and long-term stability.

Scientists around the world are currently working towards improving the characteristics of supercapacitors – such as energy density, power density and cycle stability – while also trying to reduce production costs.

In their study, the researchers demonstrated that the cellulose acetate fibres that cigarette filters are mostly composed of could be transformed into a carbon-based material using a simple, one-step burning technique called pyrolysis.

As a result of this burning process, the resulting carbon-based material contained a number of tiny pores, increasing its performance as a supercapacitive material.

“A high-performing supercapacitor material should have a large surface area, which can be achieved by incorporating a large number of small pores into the material,” continued Professor Yi.

“A combination of different pore sizes ensures that the material has high power densities, which is an essential property in a supercapacitor for the fast charging and discharging.”

Once fabricated, the carbon-based material was attached to an electrode and tested in a three-electrode system to see how well the material could adsorb electrolyte ions (charge) and then release them (discharge).

The material stored a higher amount of electrical energy than commercially available carbon and also had a higher amount of storage compared to graphene and carbon nanotubes, as reported in previous studies.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Preparation of energy storage material derived from a used cigarette filter for a supercapacitor electrode by Minzae Lee, Gil-Pyo Kim, Hyeon Don Song, Soomin Park, and Jongheop Yi. Nanotechnology 25 (34) 5601 doi:10.1088/0957-4484/25/34/345601

This is an open access paper.

Is there a supercapacitor hiding in your tree?

I gather the answer is: Yes, there is a supercapacitor in your tree as researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have found a way to use tree cellulose as a building component for supercapacitors. From an April 7, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

Based on a fundamental chemical discovery by scientists at Oregon State University, it appears that trees may soon play a major role in making high-tech energy storage devices.

OSU chemists have found that cellulose — the most abundant organic polymer on Earth and a key component of trees — can be heated in a furnace in the presence of ammonia, and turned into the building blocks for supercapacitors.

An April 7, 2014 OSU news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item portrays great excitement (Note: Links have been removed),

These supercapacitors are extraordinary, high-power energy devices with a wide range of industrial applications, in everything from electronics to automobiles and aviation. But widespread use of them has been held back primarily by cost and the difficulty of producing high-quality carbon electrodes.

The new approach just discovered at Oregon State can produce nitrogen-doped, nanoporous carbon membranes – the electrodes of a supercapacitor – at low cost, quickly, in an environmentally benign process. The only byproduct is methane, which could be used immediately as a fuel or for other purposes.

“The ease, speed and potential of this process is really exciting,” said Xiulei (David) Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, and lead author on a study announcing the discovery in Nano Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society. The research was funded by OSU.

“For the first time we’ve proven that you can react cellulose with ammonia and create these N-doped nanoporous carbon membranes,” Ji said. “It’s surprising that such a basic reaction was not reported before. Not only are there industrial applications, but this opens a whole new scientific area, studying reducing gas agents for carbon activation.

“We’re going to take cheap wood and turn it into a valuable high-tech product,” he said.

The news release includes some technical information about the carbon membranes and information about the uses to which supercapacitors are put,

These carbon membranes at the nano-scale are extraordinarily thin – a single gram of them can have a surface area of nearly 2,000 square meters. That’s part of what makes them useful in supercapacitors. And the new process used to do this is a single-step reaction that’s fast and inexpensive. It starts with something about as simple as a cellulose filter paper – conceptually similar to the disposable paper filter in a coffee maker.

The exposure to high heat and ammonia converts the cellulose to a nanoporous carbon material needed for supercapacitors, and should enable them to be produced, in mass, more cheaply than before.

A supercapacitor is a type of energy storage device, but it can be recharged much faster than a battery and has a great deal more power. They are mostly used in any type of device where rapid power storage and short, but powerful energy release is needed.

Supercapacitors can be used in computers and consumer electronics, such as the flash in a digital camera. They have applications in heavy industry, and are able to power anything from a crane to a forklift. A supercapacitor can capture energy that might otherwise be wasted, such as in braking operations. And their energy storage abilities may help “smooth out” the power flow from alternative energy systems, such as wind energy.

They can power a defibrillator, open the emergency slides on an aircraft and greatly improve the efficiency of hybrid electric automobiles.

Besides supercapacitors, nanoporous carbon materials also have applications in adsorbing gas pollutants, environmental filters, water treatment and other uses.

“There are many applications of supercapacitors around the world, but right now the field is constrained by cost,” Ji said. “If we use this very fast, simple process to make these devices much less expensive, there could be huge benefits.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Pyrolysis of Cellulose under Ammonia Leads to Nitrogen-Doped Nanoporous Carbon Generated through Methane Formation by Wei Luo, Bao Wang, Christopher G. Heron, Marshall J. Allen, Jeff Morre, Claudia S. Maier, William F. Stickle, and Xiulei Ji. Nano Lett., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nl500859p Publication Date (Web): March 28, 2014
Copyright © 2014 American Chemical Society

The article is behind a paywall.

One final observation, one of the researchers, William F. Stickle is affiliated with HewLett Packard and not Oregon State University as are the others.

Stretchable carbon nanotubes as supercapacitors

This Nov. 25, 2013 news item on phys.org was a bit of a walk down memory lane for me,

A mobile telephone display for your jacket sleeve, ECG probes for your workout clothes—wearable electronics are in demand. In order for textiles with built-in electronics to function over longer periods of time, all of the components need to be flexible and stretchable. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Chinese researchers have now introduced a new type of supercapacitor that fulfills this requirement. Its components are fiber-shaped and based on carbon nanotubes.

The reference to a mobile telephone display on a jacket sleeve brought back memories of Nokia’s proposed Morph device,, from my Aug. 3, 2011 posting,

For anyone who’s not familiar with the Morph, it’s an idea that Nokia and the University of Cambridge’s Nanoscience Centre have been working on for the last few years. Originally announced as a type of flexible phone that you could wrap around your wrist, the Morph is now called a concept.  …

At the time I was writing about exploring the use of graphene to enable the morph (flexible phone). This latest work from China is focused on carbon nanotubes,. The Angewandte Chemie Nov. 25, 2013 press release, which originated the news item on phys.org,  provides more details,

For electronic devices to be incorporated into textiles or plastic films, their components must be stretchable. This is true for LEDS, solar cells, transistors, circuits, and batteries—as well as for the supercapacitors often used for static random access memory (SRAM). SRAM is often used as a cache in processors or for local storage on chips, as well as in devices that must maintain their data over several years with no source of power.

Previous stretchable electronic components have generally been produced in a conventional planar format, which has been an obstacle to their further development for use in small, lightweight, wearable electronics. Initial attempts to produce supercapacitors in the form of wires or fibers produced flexible—but not stretchable—components. However, stretchability is a required feature for a number of applications. For example, electronic textiles would easily tear if they were not stretchable.

A team led by Huisheng Peng at Fudan University has now developed a new family of highly stretchable, fiber-shaped, high-performance supercapacitors. The devices are made by a winding process with an elastic fiber at the core. The fiber is coated with an electrolyte gel and a thin layer of carbon nanotubes is wound around it like a sheet of paper. This is followed by a second layer of electrolyte gel, another layer of carbon nanotube wrap, and a final layer of electrolyte gel.

The delicate “sheets” of carbon nanotubes are produced by chemical vapor deposition and a spinning process. In the sheets this method produces, the tiny tubes are aligned in parallel. These types of layers display a remarkable combination of properties: They are highly flexible, tear-resistant, conductive, and thermally and mechanically stable. In the wound fibers, the two layers of carbon nanotubes act as electrodes. The electrolyte gel separates the electrodes from each other while stabilizing the nanotubes during stretching so that their alignment is maintained. This results in supercapacitor fibers with a high capacity that is maintained after many stretching cycles.

For the curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

A Highly Stretchable, Fiber-Shaped Supercapacitor by Zhibin Yang, Jue Deng, Xuli Chen, Jing Ren, and Prof. Huisheng Peng. Angewandte Chemie International Edition
Early View (Online Version of Record published before inclusion in an issue)Article first published online: 8 NOV 2013 DOI: 10.1002/anie.201307619

Copyright © 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

Unique ‘printing’ process boosts supercapacitor performance

In addition to creating energy, we also need to store some of it for future use as a July 29, 2013 news release from the University of Central Florida notes,

Researchers at the University of Central Florida have developed a technique to increase the energy storage capabilities of supercapacitors, essential devices for powering high-speed trains, electric cars, and the emergency doors of the Airbus A380.

The finding, which offers a solution to a problem that has plagued the growing multi-billion dollar industry, utilizes a unique three-step process to “print” large – area nanostructured electrodes, structures necessary to improve electrical conductivity and boost performance of the supercapacitor.

Jayan Thomas, an assistant professor in UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, led the project which is featured in the June edition of Advanced Materials, one of the leading peer-reviewed scientific journals covering materials science in the world. Thomas’ research appears on the journal’s highly-coveted frontispiece, the illustration page of the journal that precedes the title page.

The news release goes on to describe the supercapacitor issue the researchers were addressing,

Supercapacitors have been around since the 1960’s. Similar to batteries, they store energy. The difference is that supercapacitors can provide higher amounts of power for shorter periods of time, making them very useful for heavy machinery and other applications that require large amounts of energy to start.  However, due to their innate low energy density; supercapacitors are limited in the amount of energy that they can store.

“We had been looking at techniques to print nanostructures,” said Thomas. “Using a simple spin-on nanoprinting (SNAP) technique, we can print highly-ordered nanopillars without the need for complicated development processes. By eliminating these processes, it allows multiple imprints to be made on the same substrate in close proximity.“

This simplified fabrication method devised by Thomas and his team is very attractive for the next-generation of energy storage systems. “What we’ve found is by adding the printed ordered nanostructures to supercapacitor electrodes, we can increase their surface area many times,” added Thomas. “We discovered that supercapacitors made using the SNAP technique can store much more energy than ones made without.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper abut this new technique for supercapacitors,

Energy Storage: Highly Ordered MnO2 Nanopillars for Enhanced Supercapacitor Performance (Adv. Mater. 24/2013) by Zenan Yu, Binh Duong, Danielle Abbitt, and Jayan Thomas. Article first published online: 20 JUN 2013 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201370160 Advanced Materials Volume 25, Issue 24, page 3301, June 25, 2013.

Lead researcher Thomas was recently featured in a video for his work on creating plasmonic nanocrystals from gold nanoparticles (from the news release),

Thomas, who is also affiliated with the College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL), and the College of Engineering, was recently featured on American Institute of Physics’ Inside Science TV for his collaborative research to develop a new material using nanotechnology that could potentially help keep pilots safe by diffusing harmful laser light.

Here’s the video,

You can find videos, news, and blogs featuring other research at Inside Science and you can find out more about Dr. Jayan Thomas here.

James’ bond (Rice University research team creates graphene/nanotube hybrid)

I have to give credit to Mike Williams’ Nov. 27, 2012 Rice University news release for the “James’ bond” phrase used to describe this graphene/nanotube hybrid,

A seamless graphene/nanotube hybrid created at Rice University may be the best electrode interface material possible for many energy storage and electronics applications.

Led by Rice chemist James Tour, researchers have successfully grown forests of carbon nanotubes that rise quickly from sheets of graphene to astounding lengths of up to 120 microns, according to a paper published today by Nature Communications. A house on an average plot with the same aspect ratio would rise into space.

Seven-atom rings (in red) at the transition from graphene to nanotube make this new hybrid material a seamless conductor. The hybrid may be the best electrode interface material possible for many energy storage and electronics applications. Image courtesy of the Tour Group

The Rice hybrid combines two-dimensional graphene, which is a sheet of carbon one atom thick, and nanotubes into a seamless three-dimensional structure. The bonds between them are covalent, which means adjacent carbon atoms share electrons in a highly stable configuration. The nanotubes aren’t merely sitting on the graphene sheet; they become a part of it.

“Many people have tried to attach nanotubes to a metal electrode and it’s never gone very well because they get a little electronic barrier right at the interface,” Tour said. “By growing graphene on metal (in this case copper) and then growing nanotubes from the graphene, the electrical contact between the nanotubes and the metal electrode is ohmic. That means electrons see no difference, because it’s all one seamless material.

In the new work, the team grew a specialized odako that retained the iron catalyst and aluminum oxide buffer but put them on top of a layer of graphene grown separately on a copper substrate. The copper stayed to serve as an excellent current collector for the three-dimensional hybrids that were grown within minutes to controllable lengths of up to 120 microns.

Electron microscope images showed the one-, two- and three-walled nanotubes firmly embedded in the graphene, and electrical testing showed no resistance to the flow of current at the junction.

“The performance we see in this study is as good as the best carbon-based supercapacitors that have ever been made,” Tour said. “We’re not really a supercapacitor lab, and still we were able to match the performance because of the quality of the electrode. It’s really remarkable, and it all harkens back to that unique interface.”

Here’s the citation and a link for the article,

A seamless three-dimensional carbon nanotube graphene hybrid material by Yu Zhu, Lei Li, Chenguang Zhang, Gilberto Casillas,  Zhengzong Sun, Zheng Yan, Gedeng Ruan, Zhiwei Peng, Abdul-Rahman O. Raji, Carter Kittrell, Robert H. Hauge & James M. Tour in Nature Communications 3, Article number:1225 doi:10.1038/ncomms2234 Published 27 November 2012

This article is behind a paywall.