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Researchers in the US have made a graphene-based supercapacitor that can store as much energy per unit mass as nickel metal hydride batteries – but unlike batteries, it can be charged or discharged in just minutes or even seconds. The new device has a specific energy density of 85.6 Wh/kg at room temperature and 136 Wh/kg at 80 °C. These are the highest ever values for "electric double layer" supercapacitors based on carbon nanomaterials.
Supercapacitors, more accurately known as electric double-layer capacitors or electrochemical capacitors, can store much more charge than conventional capacitors. An important feature of supercapacitors is that there is an extremely narrow gap between the electrodes – which are ultrathin layers. This means that a large amount of electrical charge can be stored in a tiny volume.
The new device was made by Bor Jang of US-based Nanotek Instruments and colleagues. It has electrodes made of graphene mixed with 5wt% Super P (an acetylene black that acts as a conductive additive) and 10wt% PTFE binder. A sheet of carbon just one atom thick, graphene is a very good electrical conductor as well as being extremely strong and flexible.
The researchers coat the resulting slurry onto the surface of a current collector and assemble coin-sized capacitors in a glove box. The electrolyte-electrode interface is made of "Celguard-3501" and the electrolyte is a chemical called EMIMBF4.
We believe that this is truly a breakthrough in energy technology Bor Jang, Nanotek Instruments
The energy density values of the supercapacitor are comparable to that of nickel metal hydride batteries. "This new technology makes for an energy storage device that stores nearly as much energy as in a battery but which can be recharged in seconds or minutes," Jang explained. "We believe that this is truly a breakthrough in energy technology." The device might be used to recharge mobile phones, digital cameras and micro-EVs, he adds.
The team, which includes scientists from Angstron Materials in the US and Dalian University of Technology in China, are now working hard to further improve the energy density of the device. "Our goal is to make a supercapacitor that stores as much energy as the best lithium-ion batteries (for the same weight) but which can still be recharged in less than two minutes," said Jang.
His team first discovered that graphene could be used as a supercapacitor electrode material in 2006. Since then, scientists around the world have made great strides in improving the specific capacitance of these electrodes but the devices still fall short of the theoretical capacitance values of 550 F/g.
"Despite the theoretically high specific surface area of single-layer graphene (which can reach up to 2.675 m2/g), a supercapacitance of 550 F/g has not been reached in a real device because the graphene sheets tend to re-stack together," explained Jang. "We are trying to overcome this problem by developing a strategy that prevents the graphene sheets from sticking to each other face-to-face. This can be achieved if curved graphene sheets are used instead of flat ones."
The work was reported in Nano Letters.