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Ultracapacitors get storage boost from graphene, nanotubes

Posted: 24 Apr 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:graphene 

George Washington University's Micro-Propulsion and Nanotechnology Laboratory researchers have constructed an ultracapacitor from a synthesised compound of graphene flakes and single-walled carbon nanotubes, yielding better energy storage and cost savings.

The device, described in the Journal of Applied Physics, capitalizes on the synergy brought about by utilising two carbon nanostructures with complementary properties.

Single-walled carbon nanotubes and graphene have excellent electronic, thermal, and mechanical properties that make them attractive materials for designing new ultracapacitors, said Jian Li, first author on the paper. Many groups had explored the use of the two materials separately, but few had looked at combining them.

"In our lab we developed an approach by which we can obtain both single-walled carbon nanotubes and graphene, so we came up with the idea to take advantage of the two promising carbon nanomaterials together," added Michael Keidar, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at GW, and director of the Micro-propulsion and Nanotechnology Laboratory.

Graphene-nanotube ultracapacitor

A scanning electron microscope image shows the ultracapacitor's composite film containing graphene flakes and single-walled carbon nanotubes. (Source: Journal of Applied Physics)

The researchers synthesised the graphene flakes and nanotubes by vaporizing a hollow graphite rod filled with metallic catalyst powder with an electric arc. They then mixed the two nanostructures together to form an ink that they rolled onto paper, a common separator for current commercial capacitors.

The combination device's specific capacitance, a measurement of the performance of a capacitor per unit of weight, was three times higher than the specific capacitance of a device made from carbon nanotubes alone.

The advantage of the hybrid structure, Li explained, is that the graphene flakes provide high surface area and good in-plane conductivity, while the carbon nanotubes connect all of the structures to form a uniform network.

While other types of ultracapacitors have also achieved the high specific capacitance of the graphene/nanotube hybrid, the researchers say, the main advantage of the combination approach is its low costs, since the team has developed a simple way to manufacture large amounts of the desirable mix of carbon nanostructures.

The hybrid ultracapacitor is also small and light, an advantage as electronic devices get ever smaller.

- Peter Clarke
  EE Times Europe





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