The Rice lab of chemist James Tour uses commercial lasers to create thin, flexible supercapacitors by burning patterns into common polymers. The laser burns away everything but the carbon to a depth of 20 microns on the top layer, which becomes a foam-like matrix of interconnected graphene flakes.
By first infusing the polymer with boric acid, the researchers have boosted the performance of the supercapacitor and will allow the device to be suitable for wearable electronics.
The simple manufacturing process may also be suitable for making catalysts, field emission transistors and components for solar cells and lithium-ion batteries.
The research is detailed in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano.
In the earlier work, the team led by Rice graduate student Zhiwei Peng tried many polymers and discovered a commercial polyimide was the best for the process. For the new work, the lab dissolved boric acid into polyamic acid and condensed it into a boron-infused polyimide sheet, which was then exposed to the laser.