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energy conversion and storage Lightweight supercapacitor materials could extend battery life

| Author / Editor: Luke James / Johanna Erbacher

New research into lighter, more durable materials with better energy conversion and mechanical properties could be big news for applications that require energy conversion and storage, such as mobile electronic devices and electric vehicles.

An artist’s rendering of an electron trail on gold nanostructure and the subsequent detection of “hot charge carriers” by using specialised gatekeeper molecules
An artist’s rendering of an electron trail on gold nanostructure and the subsequent detection of “hot charge carriers” by using specialised gatekeeper molecules
(Source: Enrique Shagun, Scixel)

A joint research effort between two teams—one at the University of Houston and the other at the University of Michigan—has unveiled two new advanced material models for energy conversion and storage.

Haleh Ardebili of the University of Houston led a team to develop a new, lighter, and more durable electrode based on reduced graphene oxide and aramid nanofiber (rGO-ANF). Meanwhile, at the University of Michigan, new research co-led by Edgar Meyhofer and Vladimir Shalaev was announced. This research will look into the measurement of highly energetic electrons known as “hot charge carriers” induced in gold and silver nanostructures. Hot electrons feature much larger energies than normal that can be generated in nanostructures.

Published in the journal Science, the research was part of the US Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives program. “This multidisciplinary basic research effort sheds light on a unique way to measure the energy of charge carriers,” said Dr. Chakrapani Varanasi, an ARO program manager, who supported this study. “These results are expected to play a crucial role in developing future applications in energy conversion, photocatalysis and photodetectors, for instance, that are of great interest to the Department of Defense.”

Big news for energy-hungry applications

The research could be big news for energy-hungry electronic systems. Supercapacitors have much higher power density which can be delivered to an electronic load much quicker than it can be drawn out of current energy storage technologies, such as lithium-ion batteries.

This is very important for sophisticated applications involving motor systems, such as electric vehicles, which need to be able to increase thrust on the fly at a moment’s notice. By being able to store energy in a fast charge/discharge capacitor during operation will allow the flow of energy out of a battery to be more evenly regulated, increasing operation time.

In addition, the new rGO-ANF is much stronger. With researchers touting it as a possible replacement for steel, this strength enhancement in addition to better power density could make possible a variety of applications in critical areas such as military and defence.

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