New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

Summary: Researchers have created a novel form of three-dimensional carbon that can be used as a greatly enhanced supercapacitor, holding promise for energy storage in everything from energy grids and electric cars to consumer electronics.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Storage
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Researchers at University of Texas - Austin have created a novel form of three-dimensional carbon that can be used as a greatly enhanced supercapacitor, holding promise for energy storage in everything from energy grids and electric cars to consumer electronics.

Credit: U.S. Department of Energy - Brookhaven National Laboratory

Credit: U.S. Department of Energy - Brookhaven National Laboratory

The new porous material has the potential to give supercapacitors a boost by delivering significantly more charge, opening the doors to many potential unprecedented uses for this type of electrical energy storage device, say the researchers.

"We synthesized a new sponge-like carbon that has a surface area of up to 3,100 square meters per gram (two grams has a surface area roughly equivalent to that of a football field). It also has much higher electrical conductivity and, when further optimized, will be superb for thermal management as well," said University of Texas team leader Rodney Ruoff. "The processes used to make this porous carbon are readily scalable to industrial levels."

Supercapacitors are similar to batteries in that both store electric charge, but batteries do so through chemical reactions that take time to react, which means energy is stored and released relatively slowly. Supercapacitors, on the other hand, store a charge in a way that is similar to static electricity and are able to deliver energy much faster and more efficiently than batteries, but usually hold much less electrical charge.

The new carbon material developed by the UT-Austin researchers may change that. Supercapacitors made from it have an energy-storage capacity that is approaching that of lead-acid batteries, while retaining the high power density characteristic of supercapacitors.

"This new material combines the attributes of both electrical storage systems," said Ruoff. "After we realized that we had a new carbon with a highly novel structure that showed superb performance as an electrode, we knew that this direction of research — to create carbon materials that consist of a continuous three-dimensional porous network with single-atom-thick walls — was likely to yield the optimum electrode material for supercapacitors." The widths of the pores range from 1 to 5 nanometers, or billionths of a meter.

To synthesize the carbon material, the team used microwaves to first exfoliate graphite oxide and then they treated it with potassium hydroxide, which created a carbon full of tiny holes — essentially a sponge that, when combined with an electrolyte, can store a giant electrical charge.

The next step was to confirm the precise shape of the material. Ruoff turned to scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory for a look at its nanoscale structure using the highest resolution microscopes in the world. Their observations confirmed Ruoff's hypothesis that the carbon was a new three-dimensional material having highly curved, single-atom-thick walls of of crystalline carbon that form tiny pores (as seen in the above image).

Sources:

Cockrell School of Engineering

Brookhaven National Laboratory

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Topics: Hardware, Storage

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12 comments
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  • 1 Trillion in research instead of an illegal war...

    and we'd already be energy independent and five years away from using no oil at all.
    jackbond
    • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

      @jackbond Maybe, maybe not. We have spent well over a 500 billion in the last ten years on energy research if you count all the different projects.
      hayneiii@...
    • Oh, stop

      @jackbond The reason guys like you always sound like idiots to guys like me is that you treat battery technologies as if they were energy sources.

      Please wait for the announcement of the nano singularity, or cold fusion, or something that is not just another battery before telling us it's going to replace oil.
      Robert Hahn
      • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

        @Robert Hahn

        I'm not defending his comments, but he never made a direct correllation between the battery tech and no oil. Ideally, something like this tech could be used to store a charge large enough and for long enough to power a car for comparable times that a tank of gas could. It's a novel tech and I hope to see something good come of it.
        KBot
      • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

        @Robert Hahn. Absolutely true. A cold fusion generator in every car, truck, ship , etc. would change the world.
        samp_z
      • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

        @Robert Hahn

        Take the cost of the illegal wars and build these...

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_updraft_tower

        Or solar panels or technology X that would have been discovered. Centralized production of energy (as opposed to distributed production, i.e. cars) would save a ton as well. And the thing is, these things have return on investment, wars buy you nothing.
        jackbond
    • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

      @jackbond Throw as much money as you can at energy research and in 50 years you will still be using oil. Oil is ubiquitous in the production of many goods as well as energy.

      Even the production of fuel grade oil from corn is subsidized and requires calories from oil exceeding the yield from the corn. It may get cheaper to produce oil from corn, but it is not likely because market pressure for corn as fuel is fighting the traditional market for food. The real problem here is that traditional blue agave producers in Mexico are moving to corn because of the high profit driven by the "green energy" movement, reducing the base crop for the production of good tequila. THAT is a problem that need to have serious research dollars thrown at it...
      notme403@...
      • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

        I hear Sponge and I automatically think of Squarepants. Sorry...
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        compras2
      • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

        Very mature of you...
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    • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

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  • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

    While having what essentially is a fast charge, fast discharge battery, the problem of generating the huge amount of electricity to run transportation is still there. Currently the generating capacity of the US is approx. a million megawatts. This will have to double to do what you want.
    samp_z
    • RE: New carbon 'sponge' could revolutionize energy storage

      @samp_z

      Ummm... no it wouldn't have to double at all. Study after study after study has already proved that point. At night time, base-load Power plants have to essentially ground all the electricity they produce that remains unused because they cannot easily ramp-down production. So all that electricity just goes to waste. Now if people were to plug in at night time, that electricity could be used for something useful instead AND the electricity companies could make some money off of it. Way to misinform people by not doing any research before you speak....
      namyzarc