How Supercapacitor R&D Can Help Revolutionize the World of Medicine and Electronics

Energy, Materials Studio

supercapacitor
Supercapacitors are not everywhere yet, but we hope they will be. Knowing how these materials function in different environments or with different materials can bring us closer to understanding their true applicability.
Image source: Flickr user tom_bullock

Capacitors are everywhere: they are inside our televisions, phones and almost any other electronic devices we use. Like a battery, capacitors store large amounts of energy in the form of electrical potential energy. Structurally, a charge gradient is established between two plate conductors and then an insulator is sandwiched between them to prevent the flow of electricity. Unlike a battery, capacitors release energy very rapidly if connected to a second circuit that enables charge to flow through. As the name suggests, supercapacitors are high-capacity capacitors that can store more energy per unit volume or mass than a normal capacitor and are used for certain processes such as regenerative braking, short-term energy storage or burst-mode power delivery.

The Future of Supercapacitors Heats Up

For engineers and material scientists, supercapacitors have been of particular interest because small but powerful supercapacitors could be used to make “tinier” cardiac pacemakers, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices.1 One research group at the University of California, Los Angeles has created such a “microsupercapacitor” by using graphene on arbitrary surfaces that enabled operations “three orders of magnitude higher than that of conventional supercapacitors.”2 Supercapacitors could also be charged almost instantly compared to the longer process of charging a battery, and the thinness of graphene-coupled devices would enable these devices to be woven into clothing for medical or communication devices.3 Additionally, the engineered processes that lead to graphene supercapacitors are believed to be fairly scalable and economical, suggesting that graphene supercapacitors may one day enable us to charge laptops and smartphones in a few seconds versus an hour.4

Materials Science Should Focus on Characterizing and Optimizing Supercapacitors

Though supercapacitors could change our lives, there are still a number of properties that must be well-defined before mass production of these materials can commence.

Environmental Context: Beyond building supercapacitors, it’s important to consider the environmental context in which it will be used. Depending on the climate, physical location or time, supercapacitors could be subject to extreme mechanical and/or thermal stress, which can change their properties. In order to determine how or if specific supercapacitors can maintain their functions in harsh or unpredictable environments, it is essential to understand how factors such as moisture, temperature and available space affect the efficiency of these materials.

Coatings: Researchers should also consider how special coatings could protect supercapacitors from a variety of environments or counteract any unwanted changes. Many researchers hope to use supercapacitors in medical devices such as pacemakers, so these materials must be safe for use in the chemical environment of the body and vice-versa. As another example of using specializing coatings, many researchers also believe that supercapacitors have the potential to revolutionize the construction of solar panels by protecting these machines from harsh and varied environments, while not altering their mechanical abilities.

Materials Studio, R&D and Fulfilling the Need for Supercapacitors

The environment and material coatings are only a few of the considerations researchers must keep in mind when developing supercapacitors. There are also supercapacitor needs in technology to develop longer-lasting batteries, flashlights and battery backup applications.

Regardless of the industry developing and using supercapacitors, there will be a need for researchers to go through a number of iterations of a product before they settle on one design, and this process can be both tedious and labor intensive. In order to facilitate development, BIOVIA Materials Studio provides a complete modeling and simulation environment for material scientists interested in harnessing the power of organization to more quickly characterize the properties of their superconductors.

Example: This software can enable research teams to simulate the behavior of materials used in supercapacitors in order to observe any functional changes. As well, researchers can determine how using different materials or coatings can prevent supercapacitors from becoming damaged at very low or high temperatures or during changes in humidity. As an additional bonus, sharing the results of these experiments using a standardized software and organization tools can facilitate collaborations across boundaries and add to the speed and efficiency with which unique supercapacitors can be developed for unique contexts.

To determine how the BIOVIA Materials Studio software could be used to bring your lab’s supercapacitor plans to fruition, please contact us today.

  1. “How a Microscopic Supercapacitor Will Supercharge Mobile Electronics,” September 28, 2015, http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/materials/how-a-microscopic-supercapacitor-will-supercharge-mobile-electronics
  2. “Graphene-based in-plane micro-supercapacitors with high power and energy densities,” September 17, 2013, http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2013/130917/ncomms3487/full/ncomms3487.html#affil-auth
  3. “Flexible supercapacitor raises bar for volumetric energy density,” May 13, 2014, http://blog.case.edu/think/2014/05/13/flexible_supercapacitor_raises_bar_for_volumetric_energy_density
  4. “Graphene for energy generation and storage,” August 26, 2013, http://www.graphenea.com/blogs/graphene-news/8799007-graphene-for-energy-generation-and-storage

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