Cellulose processing yields cheap supercapacitors

Technology News |
By eeNews Europe

Supercapacitors have a wide range of industrial applications, in everything from electronics to automobiles and aviation. But widespread use of them has been held back primarily by cost and the difficulty of producing high-quality carbon electrodes.

The approach discovered at OSU is able to produce nitrogen-doped, nanoporous carbon membranes – the electrodes of a supercapacitor – at low cost, quickly, in an environmentally benign process. The only byproduct is methane, which could be used immediately as a fuel or for other purposes.

“The ease, speed and potential of this process is really exciting,” said Xiulei (David) Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, and lead author on a study reported the discovery in Nano Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society.

“For the first time we’ve proven that you can react cellulose with ammonia and create these N-doped nanoporous carbon membranes,” Ji said. “It’s surprising that such a basic reaction was not reported before. Not only are there industrial applications, but this opens a whole new scientific area, studying reducing gas agents for carbon activation".

“We’re going to take cheap wood and turn it into a valuable high-tech product.”

The carbon membranes at the nano-scale are thin – a single gram of them can have a surface area of about 2,000 square meters. That is part of what makes them useful in supercapacitors. And the new process used to do this is a single-step reaction that is fast and inexpensive. The reaction starts with something about as simple as a cellulose filter paper – conceptually similar to the disposable paper filter in a coffee maker.

The exposure to high heat and ammonia converts the cellulose to a nanoporous carbon material needed for supercapacitors, and should enable them to be produced, in mass, more cheaply than before.

“There are many applications of supercapacitors around the world, but right now the field is constrained by cost,” Ji said. “If we use this very fast, simple process to make these devices much less expensive, there could be huge benefits.”

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