A Breakthrough In
Energy Storage: Graphene Micro Supercapacitors
Dec 3, 2013 - Nicole Miller - cleantechnica.com
Imagine plugging in your smartphone for thirty seconds and then continuing the
rest of your day with a fully charged phone. Then
imagine plugging in your electric vehicle for less
time than it takes to fill up a standard gas tank
before running a day's worth of errands on that one
charge. Today, researchers at UCLA may have used
some everyday, easily available technology and graphene
- a strong, flexible and highly conductible carbon
product - to make this dream of energy storage a
The magic is in the idea of a supercapacitor. Typical batteries store a lot of
energy, but it takes a long time for that energy
to collect. Capacitors charge quickly, but they don't
hold the charge very long. Supercapacitors take the
best of both these technologies to create a device
that charges quickly and will hold a large amount
of energy for a long time. Micro supercapacitors
bring this technology down to a scale appropriate
for cell phones and laptops.
Micro supercapacitors are not a new idea. The belief
is that these devices, which can charge very quickly
and which have the potential for hundreds of times
more energy storage than typical batteries, might
one day have the capacity to power much of what
now runs on less adequate batteries.
The major problem
has been that the process for creating these micro
structures was not cost-efficient, and therefore
limited the appeal to investors.
A recent breakthrough
by UCLA professor Richard Kaner and grad student
Maher El-Kady to use a laser optical drive (usually
used to label DVDs) and graphene - readily made from
available material - to mass produce these micro
supercapacitors (a research project CleanTechnica
reported on back in March 2012). The researchers
published their findings in the February 2013 issue
of Nature Communications.
Kaner and El-Kady
see the benefit for the micro supercapacitors in
permanent structures such as biomedical implants,
but some of the most exciting applications lay in
the renewable energy sector.
Renewable energy production
methods such as wind and solar are great options
for reducing the need for energy derived from fossil
fuels. The intermittent nature of these methods,
however, could pose a problem down the line for the
proliferation of these energy technologies. Having
a battery to store the energy generated by wind turbines
and solar panels will provide a constant stream of
energy whether or not the sun is shining or the wind
Professor Kaner is
now in the process of seeking funding for mass production
of the graphene micro supercapacitors. If realized,
this could be the first step to a revolution in the
marriage of renewable energy methods and energy capture.
It will be very interesting to see how this nascent
technology is implemented. What is best for the consumer
isn't always what's best for the energy company.
Having a way to cheaply store and deliberately release
energy produced using sustainable methods signals
a radical and long-awaited boost to this sector.
If the production were applied to renewable energy
storage, we would then see a corollary increase in
solar, wind, and thermal home and commercial manufacture
and installation. This increase has related tributaries
of growth potential in solar and wind job training,
manufacturing, shipping, installation, and maintenance
industries. Whatever direction the development of
Kaner and his team's micro supercapacitors, if it
works on a large scale we can look forward to major changes with long-reaching repercussions.