We recently took a look at a new type of “spongy carbon” developed by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin which shows great promise in creating a supercapacitor with the ability to store much more energy than is currently possible. The development is hailed as a breakthrough because of the potential it has to considerably improve energy storage technologies but we now learn that scientists at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey have come up with a development of their own that shows promise in improving supercapacitors whilst also taking advantage of a natural by-product of biomass incineration.

In a statement, the student scientists at Stevens point out that the problem with existing supercapacitors is that they use activated carbon to store energy and that the material is both unsustainable and expensive. The alternative that the students came up with uses “biochar.” Biochar is what is left over when organic matter is burned and, as the team points out, biomass energy facilities are already producing it. Now the students have designed, fabricated, and tested a prototype supercapacitor electrode using biochar and, apparently, the project was a success.

image via Toyota USA

Since the creation of biochar is linked to biofuels production, as the use of biofuels increases, so will the availability of biochar. The Stevens students see this relationship as a benefit because the increased use of biofuels will ultimately drive down the costs of producing a supercapacitor that uses biochar.

While this development doesn’t seem to address the storage capacity limitations of conventional supercapacitors, it appears to be an attractive and environmentally considerate alternative to activated carbon as a supercapacitor electrode and could end up reducing costs on supercapacitors and, perhaps, the solar power systems and hydrogen fuel cell batteries that depend on them.

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