Sponge-like carbon can be used as a supercapacitor

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Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering have created a new porous, three-dimensional carbon that can be used as a supercapacitor.

The material is said to hold promise for energy storage in energy grids, electric cars and consumer electronics.

‘We synthesised a new sponge-like carbon that has a surface area of up to 3,100m2 per gram. It also has much higher electrical conductivity and, when further optimised, will be superb for thermal management as well,’ said lead researcher Prof Rodney S Ruoff. ‘The processes used to make this porous carbon are readily scalable to industrial levels.

‘After we realised that we had a new carbon with a highly novel structure that showed superb performance as an electrode, we knew that this direction of research — to create carbon materials that consist of a continuous three-dimensional porous network with single-atom-thick walls — was likely to yield the optimum electrode material for supercapacitors.’

The process used by the university team to synthesise the carbon material involved using microwaves to exfoliate graphite oxide, followed by treatment with potassium hydroxide, which created a carbon full of tiny holes that can store a giant electrical charge when combined with an electrolyte.

Collaborators at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York then analysed the atomic structure of the carbon material at the nanoscale using very high-resolution electron microscopes. Their observations confirmed Ruoff’s hypothesis that the carbon was a new three-dimensional material having highly curved, single-atom-thick walls that form tiny pores.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Office of Technology Commercialization has filed a patent with the US Patent Office on behalf of the inventors.

The findings of the group were published this month by Science.