Graphene Supercapacitors: The End Of Batteries?

If these UCLA researchers are right – and we might find out pretty soon – energy storage could be in for a big change.

Richard Kaner and his graduate student Maher El-Kady have been trumpeting graphene micro-supercapacitors that would combine the very fast charge and discharging capabilities of supercapacitors – hundreds of times faster than batteries – with the high energy density of batteries. Now the researches say they have demonstrated a scalable fabrication process that could make their supercapacitors cheap to produce while expanding the possibilities for their use.

supercapacitor graphene

The UCLA researchers say they’ve been able to produce more than 100 micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in less than 30 minutes, using inexpensive materials. (image via UCLA)

“We are now looking for industry partners to help us mass-produce our graphene micro-supercapacitors,” Kaner said in a statement.

The duo actually came up with the essence of their breakthrough nearly a year ago, with this brilliant technique, according to UCLA:

They glued a layer of plastic onto the surface of a DVD and then coated the plastic with a layer of graphite oxide. Then, they simply inserted the coated disc into a commercially available LightScribe optical drive — traditionally used to label DVDs — and took advantage of the drive’s own laser to create the interdigitated pattern. The laser scribing is so precise that none of the “interwoven fingers” touch each other, which would short-circuit the supercapacitor.

To take the supercapacitor to the next level, UCLA said, the researchers tinkered with the electrodes, placing them “side by side using an interdigitated pattern, akin to interwoven fingers,” UCLA said. “This helped to maximize the accessible surface area available for each of the two electrodes while also reducing the path over which ions in the electrolyte would need to diffuse. As a result, the new supercapacitors have more charge capacity and rate capability than their stacked counterparts.”

The researchers add that “these micro-supercapacitors show excellent cycling stability, an important advantage over micro-batteries, which have shorter lifespans and which could pose a major problem when embedded in permanent structures – such as biomedical implants, active radio-frequency identification tags and embedded micro-sensors – for which no maintenance or replacement is possible.”

They also imagine the possibility of fabricating the micro-supercapacitors behind solar cells “in both portable devices and rooftop installations to store power generated during the day for use after sundown, helping to provide electricity around the clock when connection to the grid is not possible.”

The UCLA research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Here’s a video, featuring Kaner and El-Kady, that gives some good background on graphene and supercapacitors and what this breakthrough could mean:

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

    • disqus_fS3MdHPxdl

      Why hasn’t anybody said anything about using this technology with solar panels. If you couple this with solar cells you’d solve the problem of the energy crisis. The problem with solar panels is that the energy has to be stored in batteries that resist energy flow. If this technology were coupled with solar we might not have to pay for energy again. Just the cost of the panels, capacitors, and service. We might never need a power plant or fossil fuel again.

      • http://www.facebook.com/petedanko Pete Danko

        The UCLA guys talk about that! From the story: “They also imagine the possibility of fabricating the micro-supercapacitors behind solar cells ‘in both portable devices and rooftop installations to store power generated during the day for use after sundown, helping to provide electricity around the clock when connection to the grid is not possible.'”

        • IrelandJnr

          We know the point of solar, LOL. What he was looking to know were the benefits of this material for solar.

          • Pete Danko

            Oh. Sorry. I thought when the commenter wrote, “Why hasn’t anybody said anything about using this technology with solar panels,” he/she might be interested to know that the UCLA researchers *have* talked about using this technology with solar panels.

    • phor11

      Anyone know the physics behind this? Is it possible to scale it up to replace high wattage utility or transportation grade batteries? Or is it relegated to low power applications for now?

      • http://www.facebook.com/petedanko Pete Danko

        NREL provides good background here on how supercapacitors (aka, ultracapacitors) work: http://www.nrel.gov/vehiclesandfuels/energystorage/ultracapacitors.html

        There is definitely hope for EV applications, but sounds like there is a longer way to go to get there.

      • http://www.facebook.com/petedanko Pete Danko

        One other backgrounder recommendation — this piece from Gigaom from a few years ago; http://gigaom.com/2011/07/12/how-ultracapacitors-work-and-why-they-fall-short/

        • phor11

          Very interesting read, thanks.

          Sounds like the graphene solution aids in storage capacity by dramatically increasing the surface area of the electrodes, but as you increase capacity, you lose maximum voltage or ruin your electrolyte, so they still have another piece to the puzzle to solve before these would be useful in higher voltage applications.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Efrain-Rojas/1297723783 Efrain Rojas

      This story is over a year old. If it is indeed as simole as they say it is, why isnt there a breakthru product on the market already?

      • http://www.facebook.com/petedanko Pete Danko

        Efrain — Indeed, as our story notes, the key breakthrough came a year ago. This latest development is the new publication of a paper that lays out a way to do the fabrication on a large-scale, which would seem to be a key step on the path toward commercialization. Now they’re looking for funding. I imagine if they get it, we’ll find out if this revolutionary technology can truly be made to work at scale, and it what ways.
        Pete

        • http://www.facebook.com/aaron.labertew Aaron Labertew

          Tell them to put it on Kickstarter, I’ll throw some money their way!

          • http://www.facebook.com/petedanko Pete Danko

            I like that idea! Big-shot university researcher takes to Kickstarter – why not?

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.barthle Paul Barthle

      Could graphene ultracaps be used to absorb electrical surges from lightning strikes or even EMP events to protect electronics?

    • conservativemind12

      How long before you can stick one in a phone?

      • IrelandJnr

        My first guess is 15 years, so probably at least that.

    • Adam Doll

      I wonder how this technology would work with wireless charging. We go through many sources of radio frequency during our day, and I wonder how much power it would take to charge these type of batteries. With such a low resistance we might be able to always keep our electronic devices charged just with the em fields we encounter.

    • skycollection