Using 3D Surface Microporous Graphene for Supercapacitor Applications

Materials Studio

A recent report on 3D surface microporous graphene suggests that this new material can expand the range of real-world applications of supercapacitors. Image credit: U.S. Army Materiel Command

When it comes to energy storage, supercapacitors are at the forefront of the field. A supercapacitor has a double layer of materials, so it has a much higher capacitance than a traditional capacitor, but the voltage limits are much lower. As a result of the high energy storage capacity of supercapacitors, some materials scientists have even suggested that for some applications, supercapacitors may even be able to replace traditional batteries.1 However, problems with existing commercialized supercapacitors have limited the applications of the technology so far.

New research out of Michigan Technological University may be able to change that. A recent report describes a new, cost-effective method for the manufacture of a type of supercapacitor material that is more efficient and effective for energy storage and release than traditionally used materials like activated carbon. This material, 3D surface microporous graphene, could revolutionize the use of supercapacitors in the world today. To explore the potential applications of this innovative technology, materials scientists can use modeling and simulation software that streamlines the molecular analysis of supercapacitor materials.

The Potential Benefits of 3D Surface Microporous Graphene

In July 2017, a research team of materials scientists found a way to convert carbon dioxide into 3D surface microporous graphene, a material with supercapacitive properties.2 Essentially, the material is a sheet of carbon with micropores across its surface. The surface also folds into slightly larger mesopores. Like all supercapacitor materials, 3D surface microporous graphene’s capacitive ability depend on its ability to store and release a charge, and the limiting factor is the rate at which ions can move through the material.

The 3D surface microporous graphene material that was introduced by the scientists at Michigan Tech–which they describe as a “brand new material”–makes a better electrode for energy sources than traditional supercapacitors because its unique surface qualities improve the efficiency with which electrolyte ions move across the surface.3 While it can be difficult for electrolyte ions to diffuse into or through the micropores of activated carbon–the most commonly used material for supercapacitors–the surface micropores on 3D surface microporous graphene adsorb electrolyte ions without having to pull them deep into the micropores themselves. Instead, the mesopores act as interconnected channels through which electrons can travel.

Ultimately, this speeds up the supercapacitor’s cycle of acquiring and releasing charge, so energy storage and transfer capabilities improve significantly. As a result, using 3D surface microporous graphene would reduce charging time for superacapitors and improve the efficiency with which energy is released.

Right now, supercapacitors are used in a variety of applications, including regenerative braking systems in hybrid vehicles. However, the Michigan Tech scientists suggest that, because their 3D surface microporous graphene can facilitate such a rapid charge/discharge cycle of electrolyte ions, it could greatly expand the range of applications for supercapacitors. Some of the possibilities for which this material could be used include elevators, buses and cranes.

As materials scientists explore these options, modeling and simulation software can be a valuable tool to support research efforts. By enabling researchers to explore the qualities of the material at the molecular level as it is applied in different contexts, it may be possible to optimize the functionality of 3D microporous graphene for particular applications.

Using Carbon Dioxide to Synthesize 3D Microporous Graphene

Another innovative aspect of the Michigan Tech study was that they found a way to synthesize 3D microporous graphene from carbon dioxide in a way that releases heat. Usually, synthesizing materials from carbon dioxide requires a large amount of energy input, making it highly cost inefficient. However, in the new method, the materials scientists added carbon dioxide to sodium and then increased the temperature to 520 degrees Celsius, initiating a chemical reaction that results in an energy gain rather than an energy loss. Not only does the reaction create the 3D graphene sheets, but it also “digs the micropores,” resulting in more energy savings when compared to the manufacture of other supercapacitant materials.

The researchers’ success at this endeavor suggests that there may be other ways to harness carbon dioxide–a highly abundant greenhouse gas–for the energy-efficient synthesis of useful materials. Again, using modern software can improve research productivity as researchers explore the possibilities. In today’s modeling and simulation programs, researchers can evaluate molecular interactions at different temperatures and predict ways that they may be harnessed for useful applications, the way the Michigan Tech scientists did with carbon dioxide and sodium at 520 degrees Celsius.

Overall, the new study opens up a variety of avenues for further research. Materials scientists can explore the applications of 3D microporous graphene to real-world technologies, and there is also room for further research into the synthesis of useful materials from carbon dioxide. BIOVIA Materials Studio is a high-level molecular modeling and simulations software solution that can support advanced research in both of these areas. Contact us today to learn about Materials Studio and our other innovative products.

  1. “Can supercapacitors surpass batteries for energy storage?” August 16, 2016, http://www.electronicdesign.com/power/can-supercapacitors-surpass-batteries-energy-storage
  2.  “ An ideal electrode material, 3D surface microporous graphene for supercapacitors with ultrahigh areal capacitance,” July 3, 2017, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsami.7b07381
  3. “From greenhouse gas to 3D surface microporous graphene,” August 7, 2017, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170807122015.htm