via WC : Imagine being able to charge your cellphone or laptop in seconds.
New research from the University of Waterloo shows that this could become a reality soon.
Michael Pope, assistant professor of chemical engineering, said they have found ways to significantly improve energy storage devices called supercapacitors.
When they tested their new supercapacitors, they had double the storage capacity of commercial ones.
“It’s among the highest that’s been reported so far in the research literature. We’re hoping this is getting us one step closer to some more interesting applications,” said Pope.
He said supercapacitors are made up of graphene sheets, which function as the conductor, and need to be stacked like pieces of paper.
“I tell my students if you have a penny’s weight of this material, graphene, it could cover an entire football field,” said Pope.
He explained how you stack up something that size is important. They used a liquid salt that serves as a spacer to separate the sheets and provide a place for energy to be stored. They also used a detergent to spread the salt in a uniform way.
“It’s not easy to do,” said Pope, but they achieved what he called very good results.
“We were able to get more control over how much surface area we have actually coated with the salt. The more surface area we have contact with, the more energy we can store,” said Pope.
It was a complicated process and Pope said it is challenging to understand what is going on with their system because they put everything together at once. They are hoping to run more tests and try different salts and ways to make the graphene more conductive.
Pope said supercapacitors are already used in a limited way.
“The main application right now is in regenerative breaking for hybrid and electric cars. They use supercapacitors to capture the energy when you break … sometimes they use those in cars, but mostly in high-speed trains in Europe and Asia,” said Pope.
Pope said they are also using them to replace lead-acid batteries in truck starters.
“Lead is toxic so they’re trying to move away from that,” he said.
A supercapacitor performs better than batteries, according to Pope, because they charge and discharge more efficiently and last for a longer time.
“You don’t have to replace your car battery if you use a supercapacitor,” said Pope.
The hope is to replace current battery technologies.
He described an electric bus in China that is run entirely off supercapacitors, but needs to charge at every stop because it can only go a few miles at a time.
“What we’re working toward is boosting how much energy we can store so we can start thinking about … cellphones and electric vehicles,” said Pope.
He said a cellphone could only be used for an hour or two with current technology, but with supercapacitors, it could be charged in five to 10 seconds.
“It’s exciting to think about how we could use fast charging to make our lives more efficient or convenient,” said Pope.