Paper Supercapacitor

By coating ordinary paper with layers of gold nanoparticles and other materials, researchers have fabricated flexible paper supercapacitors that exhibit the best performance of any textile-type supercapacitor to date. In particular, the paper supercapacitors address one of the biggest challenges in this area, which is to achieve a high energy density in addition to an already high power density, since both properties are essential for realizing high-performance energy-storage devices. In the future, flexible paper supercapacitors could be used in wearable electronics for biomedical, consumer, and military applications. The researchers, led by Seung Woo Lee at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Jinhan Cho at Korea University, have published a paper on the flexible paper supercapacitor electrodes in a recent issue of Nature Communications. As energy-storage devices, supercapacitors have several advantages over batteries, such as a higher power density, rapid charge/discharge rate, and longer lifetime, yet they lag behind batteries in energy density (the amount of energy that can be stored in a given amount of space). Although several methods have been attempted to improve the energy density of paper supercapacitors by coating them with various conductive materials, often these methods have the drawback of reducing the power density.

The paper electrodes based on layer-by-layer-assembled metal nanoparticles exhibit metal-like electric conductivity, paper-like mechanical properties, and a large surface area without any thermal treatment and/or mechanical pressing,” explains coauthor Yongmin Ko at Korea University. “The periodic insertion of metal nanoparticles within high-energy nanoparticle-based paper electrodes could resolve the critical tradeoff in which an increase in the loading amount of materials to enhance the energy density of supercapacitors decreases the power density.”
Tests  showed that the flexible paper supercapacitors had a maximum capacitance that is higher than any previously reported textile-based supercapacitor. In addition, the new devices exhibits an excellent capacity retention, demonstrated by a 90% capacity retention after 5,000 bending cycles.


How To Draw Electricity from the Bloodstream

Men build dams and huge turbines to turn the energy of waterfalls and tides into electricity. To produce hydropower on a much smaller scale, Chinese scientists have now developed a lightweight power generator based on carbon nanotube fibers suitable to convert even the energy of flowing blood in blood vessels into electricity.

For thousands of years, people have used the energy of flowing or falling water for their purposes, first to power mechanical engines such as watermills, then to generate electricity by exploiting height differences in the landscape or sea tides. Using naturally flowing water as a sustainable power source has the advantage that there are (almost) no dependencies on weather or daylight. Even flexible, minute power generators that make use of the flow of biological fluids are conceivable. How such a system could work is explained by a research team from Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Huisheng Peng and his co-workers have developed a fiber with a thickness of less than a millimeter that generates electrical power when surrounded by flowing saline solution—in a thin tube or even in a blood vessel.

The construction principle of the fiber is quite simple. An ordered array of carbon nanotubes was continuously wrapped around a polymeric core. Carbon nanotubes are well known to be electroactive and mechanically stable; they can be spun and aligned in sheets. In the as-prepared electroactive threads, the carbon nanotube sheets coated the fiber core with a thickness of less than half a micron. For power generation, the thread or “fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG), as the authors call it, was connected to electrodes and immersed into flowing water or simply repeatedly dipped into a saline solution. “The electricity was derived from the relative movement between the FFNG and the solution,” the scientists explained. According to the theory, an electrical double layer is created around the fiber, and then the flowing solution distorts the symmetrical charge distribution, generating an electricity gradient along the long axis.

The power output efficiency of this system was high. Compared with other types of miniature energy-harvesting devices, the FFNG was reported to show a superior power conversion efficiency of more than 20%. Other advantages are elasticity, tunability, lightweight, and one-dimensionality, thus offering prospects of exciting technological applications. The FFNG can be made stretchable just by spinning the sheets around an elastic fiber substrate. If woven into fabrics, wearable electronics become thus a very interesting option for FFNG application. Another exciting application is the harvesting of electrical energy from the bloodstream for medical applications. First tests with frog nerves proved to be successful.

The findings are published in  the journal Angewandte Chemie.


Self-Healable Lithium Ion Battery For Electronic Textile

Electronics that can be embedded in clothing are a growing trend. However, power sources remain a problem. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, scientists have now introduced thin, flexible, lithium ion batteries with self-healing properties that can be safely worn on the body. Even after completely breaking apart, the battery can grow back together without significant impact on its electrochemical properties.

Existing lithium ion batteries for wearable electronics can be bent and rolled up without any problems, but can break when they are twisted too far or accidentally stepped on—which can happen often when being worn. This damage not only causes the battery to fail, it can also cause a safety problem: Flammable, toxic, or corrosive gases or liquids may leak out.

A team led by Yonggang Wang and Huisheng Peng from  Fudan University in Shanghai – China, has now developed a new family of lithium ion batteries that can overcome such accidents thanks to their amazing self-healing powers. In order for a complicated object like a battery to be made self-healing, all of its individual components must also be self-healing. The scientists from Fudan University  the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (South Korea), and the Samsung R&D Institute China, have now been able to accomplish this.

self-healing-batteryThe electrodes in these batteries consist of layers of parallel carbon nanotubes. Between the layers, the scientists embedded the necessary lithium compounds in nanoparticle. In contrast to conventional lithium ion batteries, the lithium compounds cannot leak out of the electrodes, either while in use or after a break. The thin layer electrodes are each fixed on a substrate of self-healing polymer. Between the electrodes is a novel, solvent-free electrolyte made from a cellulose-based gel with an aqueous lithium sulfate solution embedded in it. This gel electrolyte also serves as a separation layer between the electrodes.

After a break, it is only necessary to press the broken ends together for a few seconds for them to grow back together. Both the self-healing polymer and the carbon nanotubes “stick” back together perfectly. The parallel arrangement of the nanotubes allows them to come together much better than layers of disordered carbon nanotubes. The electrolyte also poses no problems. Whereas conventional electrolytes decompose immediately upon exposure to air, the new gel is stable. Free of organic solvents, it is neither flammable nor toxic, making it safe for this application.

The capacity and charging/discharging properties of a batteryarmband” placed around a doll’s elbow were maintained, even after repeated break/self-healing cycles.


Power Source Woven Into Fabrics

Wearable power sources for wearable electronics are limited by the size of garments. With that in mind, researchers at Case Western Reserve University ( CWRU)  have developed flexible wire-shaped micro *supercapacitors that can be woven into a jacket, shirt or dress. By their design or by connecting the capacitors in series or parallel, the devices can be tailored to match the charge storage and delivery needs of electronics donned.

While there’s been progress in development of those electronics–body cameras, smart glasses, sensors that monitor health, activity trackers and more–one challenge remaining is providing less obtrusive and cumbersome power sources.

wearable electronics

The area of clothing is fixed, so to generate the power density needed in a small area, we grew radially-aligned titanium oxide nanotubes on a titanium wire used as the main electrode,” said Liming Dai, the Kent Hale Smith Professor of Macromolecular Science and Engineering. “By increasing the surface area of the electrode, you increase the capacitance.

Dai and Tao Chen, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve, published their research on the microsupercapacitor in the journal Energy Storage Materials. The study builds on earlier carbon-based supercapacitors.

*A capacitor is cousin to the battery, but offers the advantage of charging and releasing energy much faster.


Yarns that store and release electrical power

Wearable electronic devices for health and fitness monitoring are a rapidly growing area of consumer electronics; one of their biggest limitations is the capacity of their tiny batteries to deliver enough power to transmit data. Now, researchers at MIT and in Canada have found a promising new approach to delivering the short but intense bursts of power needed by such small devices. The key is a new approach to making supercapacitors — devices that can store and release electrical power in such bursts, which are needed for brief transmissions of data from wearable devices such as heart-rate monitors, computers, or smartphones, the researchers say. They may also be useful for other applications where high power is needed in small volumes, such as autonomous microrobots.

The new approach uses yarns, made from nanowires of the element niobium, as the electrodes in tiny supercapacitors (which are essentially pairs of electrically conducting fibers with an insulator between). The concept is described in a paper in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces by MIT professor of mechanical engineering Ian W. Hunter, doctoral student Seyed M. Mirvakili, and three others at the University of British Columbia.

Nanotechnology researchers have been working to increase the performance of supercapacitors for the past decade. Among nanomaterials, carbon-based nanoparticles — such as carbon nanotubes and graphene — have shown promising results, but they suffer from relatively low electrical conductivity, Mirvakili says.

In this new work, he and his colleagues have shown that desirable characteristics for such devices, such as high power density, are not unique to carbon-based nanoparticles, and that niobium nanowire yarn is a promising an alternative.

MIT-Nanowires-1Yarn made of niobium nanowires, seen here in a scanning electron microscope image (background), can be used to make very efficient supercapacitors, MIT researchers have found. Adding a coating of a conductive polymer to the yarn (shown in pink, inset) further increases the capacitor’s charge capacity. Positive and negative ions in the material are depicted as blue and red spheres.

Imagine you’ve got some kind of wearable health-monitoring system,” Hunter says, “and it needs to broadcast data, for example using Wi-Fi, over a long distance.” At the moment, the coin-sized batteries used in many small electronic devices have very limited ability to deliver a lot of power at once, which is what such data transmissions need.

Long-distance Wi-Fi requires a fair amount of power,” says Hunter, the George N. Hatsopoulos Professor in Thermodynamics in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, “but it may not be needed for very long.” Small batteries are generally poorly suited for such power needs, he adds.

We know it’s a problem experienced by a number of companies in the health-monitoring or exercise-monitoring space. So an alternative is to go to a combination of a battery and a capacitor,” Hunter says: the battery for long-term, low-power functions, and the capacitor for short bursts of high power. Such a combination should be able to either increase the range of the device, or — perhaps more important in the marketplace — to significantly reduce size requirements.


From Butterfly Wings To Wearable Electronics, Better Solar Cells

Leveraging the amazing natural properties of the Morpho butterfly’s wings, scientists have developed a nanobiocomposite material that shows promise for wearable electronic devices, highly sensitive light sensors and sustainable batteries. Eijiro Miyako and colleagues from the Japanese national institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) explain that Morpho butterfly wings have natural properties that are beyond the capabilities of any current technology to reproduce artificially. In addition to being lightweight, thin and flexible, the butterfly’s wings absorb solar energy, shed water quickly and are self-cleaning.
butterfly wings
 “Our present study highlights the important progress that has been made toward the development of smart nanobiomaterials for various applications such as digital diagnosis, soft wearable electronic devices, photosensors, and photovoltaic cells,” the scientists state.

A report on the new hybrid material appears in the journal ACS Nano.