Thursday, 14 August 2014

German-Chinese Researchers Reveal Graphene Power Storage Potential

A team of German and Chinese researchers recently revealed the potential of a developing power storage technology.  They researched and reported on a graphene-based solution that could pave the way for more energy-efficient power options for applications requiring excessive power output in short bursts of time.  Their research should help move forward the development of graphene-based planar interdigital micro-supercapacitors (MSCs) capable of millions of power cycles.

The team of researchers hail from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research and China's Shenyang National Laboratory for Materials Science.  A recent report issued by the group covers the history of supercapacitor development along with a highly technical review of the current graphene-based materials being used to manufacture MSCs.  Those materials include graphene sheets, hybrids, and quantum dots.  The report also covers device configurations and strategies for micro-fabrication.

Graphene is a pure carbon product fabricated in thin, flexible sheets.  It is an incredibly strong material that is capable of high efficiency heat and electrical conduction.  A specific process for manufacturing graphene was first patented in the US in 2002.

Important Research

The importance of the German-Chinese research is underscored by the limits of current micro-scale power storage solutions.  The most commonly used solutions for modern portable electronics and implantable medical devices rely on batteries storing energy by way of redox reactions.  Such solutions are limited by lower power densities and cycling capabilities of no more than several thousand.  These batteries are completely incapable of addressing high power needs on a larger scale.

Researchers chose to focus on graphene due to its unique physical and structural properties. For example, it has a large surface area, which enables maximum storage without compromising flexibility.  It is an excellent material that can take full advantage of planar geometry to create on-chip energy storage solutions regardless of the size or shape of the chip in question.  Interaction between graphene layers is also more efficient and powerful than traditional stacked layers.

Planar MSCs are not necessarily new technology as the first prototype was developed in 2003 however advancements over the years have created super-capacitors capable of doing so much more with so much less.  Today's state-of-the-art MSCs are driving the future of micro-scale energy storage.

The Next Step

Now that we have results from the German-Chinese research, what is the next step?  The research does not necessarily reveal anything ground breaking, but it does provide a framework for developing graphene-based MSCs in the future.  Now that research has proven it can be done on a large scale, designers and manufacturers need to figure out how to do it in a cost-effective manner.

We will not be seeing any off-the-shelf graphene-based solutions this year or next; nevertheless, the research should motivate more companies to get behind graphene solutions for micro-scale energy applications.  As a side-note, funding for the German-Chinese research came from the European Research Council, the German Research Foundation and China's National Natural Science Foundation, Ministry of Science and Technology and Academy of Sciences.

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