Scientific efforts to create new high performance, efficient energy storage technologies may be taking a pretty big leap forward, according to researchers at The University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering. The research team, led by Professor Rodney S. Ruoff, has created a new porous, three-dimensional carbon that they say can be used like a “greatly enhanced supercapacitor”.
In a statement, the team likens a supercapacitor to a sprinter. It can discharge a bunch of energy very quickly, but it also runs out of energy quickly because of its limited storage potential. Comparatively, a battery is more like a marathon runner which can store a lot more energy but, because of the way batteries store energy, they are slower to discharge it. The team believes that the continuous, three-dimensional porous network that is created within their new sponge-like carbon is an optimum electrode material for supercapacitors because, apparently, it is an excellent conductor of electricity and the massive amount of surface area that it offers within a very small space will allow supercapacitors to store much more energy. To put this new carbon’s attributes into perspective, Professor Ruoff explains that just one gram of the material contains 3,100 square meters of surface area per gram. Two grams of the material has roughly as much surface area as a football field.
Eric Stach, a material’s scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and co-author of a paper about the material that will be published in Science magazines online publication, says that this enhanced storage capacity combined with a supercapacitor’s existing attributes of rapid discharge and lengthy life-cycle make this new form of carbon “particularly attractive for meeting electrical energy storage needs that also require a quick release of energy — for instance, in electric vehicles or to smooth out power availability from intermittent energy sources, such as wind and solar power.”
Professor Ruoff says that the process used to make the material is readily scalable to industrial levels, which would suggest that the new carbon could be quickly implemented into new energy storage devices that are used in everything from energy grids to electric cars and even consumer electronics.