Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Liberating devices from their power cords


Imagine a future in which our electrical gadgets are no longer limited by plugs and external power sources.

This intriguing prospect is one of the reasons for the current interest in building the capacity to store electrical energy directly into a wide range of products, such as a laptop whose casing serves as its battery, or an electric car powered by energy stored in its chassis, or a home where the dry wall and siding store the electricity that runs the lights and appliances.

Close-up of structural supercapacitor. (Joe Howell / Vanderbilt)

It also makes the small, dull grey wafers that graduate student Andrew Westover and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Cary Pint have made in Vanderbilt’s Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory far more important than their nondescript appearance suggests.

“These devices demonstrate – for the first time as far as we can tell – that it is possible to create materials that can store and discharge significant amounts of electricity while they are subject to realistic static loads and dynamic forces, such as vibrations or impacts,” said Pint. “Andrew has managed to make our dream of structural energy storage materials into a reality.”

When you can integrate energy into the components used to build systems, it opens the door to a whole new world of technological possibilities.That is important because structural energy storage will change the way in which a wide variety of technologies are developed in the future. “When you can integrate energy into the components used to build systems, it opens the door to a whole new world of technological possibilities. All of a sudden, the ability to design technologies at the basis of health, entertainment, travel and social communication will not be limited by plugs and external power sources,” Pint said.

The new device that Pint and Westover has developed is a supercapacitor that stores electricity by assembling electrically charged ions on the surface of a porous material, instead of storing it in chemical reactions the way batteries do. As a result, supercaps can charge and discharge in minutes, instead of hours, and operate for millions of cycles, instead of thousands of cycles like batteries.

In a paper appearing online May 19 in the journal Nano Letters, Pint and Westover report that their new structural supercapacitor operates flawlessly in storing and releasing electrical charge while subject to stresses or pressures up to 44 psi and vibrational accelerations over 80 g (significantly greater than those acting on turbine blades in a jet engine).

Furthermore, the mechanical robustness of the device doesn’t compromise its energy storage capability. “In an unpackaged, structurally integrated state our supercapacitor can store more energy and operate at higher voltages than a packaged, off-the-shelf commercial supercapacitor, even under intense dynamic and static forces,” Pint said.

One area where supercapacitors lag behind batteries is in electrical energy storage capability: Supercaps must be larger and heavier to store the same amount of energy as lithium-ion batteries. However, the difference is not as important when considering multifunctional energy storage systems.

Supercapacitors store ten times less energy than current lithium-ion batteries, but they can last a thousand times longer.“Battery performance metrics change when you’re putting energy storage into heavy materials that are already needed for structural integrity,” said Pint. “Supercapacitors store ten times less energy than current lithium-ion batteries, but they can last a thousand times longer. That means they are better suited for structural applications. It doesn’t make sense to develop materials to build a home, car chassis, or aerospace vehicle if you have to replace them every few years because they go dead.”

Westover’s wafers consist of electrodes made from silicon that have been chemically treated so they have nanoscale pores on their inner surfaces and then coated with a protective ultrathin graphene-like layer of carbon. Sandwiched between the two electrodes is a polymer film that acts as a reservoir of charged ions, similar to the role of the electrolyte paste in a battery. When the electrodes are pressed together, the polymer oozes into the tiny pores in much the same way that melted cheese soaks into the nooks and crannies of artisan bread in a panini. When the polymer cools and solidifies, it forms an extremely strong mechanical bond.

“The biggest problem with designing load-bearing supercaps is preventing them from delaminating,” said Westover. “Combining nanoporous material with the polymer electrolyte bonds the layers together tighter than superglue.”

The use of silicon in structural supercapacitors is best suited for consumer electronics and solar cells, but Pint and Westover are confident that the rules that govern the load-bearing character of their design will carry over to other materials, such as carbon nanotubes and lightweight porous metals like aluminum.

The intensity of interest in “multifunctional” devices of this sort is reflected by the fact that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy is investing $8.7 million in research projects that focus specifically on incorporating energy storage into structural materials. There have also been recent press reports of several major efforts to develop multifunctional materials or structural batteries for use in electric vehicles and for military applications. However, Pint pointed out that there have not been any reports in the technical literature of tests performed on structural energy storage materials that show how they function under realistic mechanical loads.

Amrutur Anilkumar, professor of the practice in mechanical engineering, postdoctoral associate Shahana Chatterjee, graduate student Landon Oakes, undergraduate mechanical engineering majors John Tian, Shivaprem Bernath and Farhan Nur Shabab and high school student Rob Edwards collaborated in the project.

The research was supported by National Science Foundation grants CMMI 1334269 and EPS 104083. Materials fabrication was conducted in part at the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that is supported by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the U.S. Department of Energy.

David Salisbury, (615) 322-NEWS

David Salisbury | Vanderbilt University
Further information:

Further reports about: Energy Vanderbilt batteries battery cycles electricity electrodes ions materials pores structural

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht 'Super yeast' has the power to improve economics of biofuels
18.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Engineers reveal fabrication process for revolutionary transparent sensors
14.10.2016 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>