An Electrochemical capacitors (ECs) that combines the power performance of capacitors with the high energy density of batteries would represent a significant advance in energy storage technology. This requires new electrodes that not only maintain high conductivity but also provide higher and more accessible surface area than conventional ECs that use activated carbon electrodes. Now researchers at UCLA have used a standard LightScribe DVD optical drive to produce such electrodes. The electrodes are composed of an expanded network of graphene — a one-atom-thick layer of graphitic carbon — that shows excellent mechanical and electrical properties as well as exceptionally high surface area.
Graphene Supercapacitors. Schematic showing the structure of laser scribed graphene supercapacitors.
The process is based on coating a DVD disc with a film of graphite oxide that is then laser treated inside a LightScribe DVD drive to produce graphene electrodes. Typically, the performance of energy storage devices is evaluated by two main figures, the energy density and power density. Suppose we are using the device to run an electric car — the energy density tells us how far the car can go a single charge whereas the power density tells us how fast the car can go. Here, devices made with Laser Scribed Graphene (LSG) electrodes exhibit ultrahigh energy density values in different electrolytes while maintaining the high power density and excellent cycle stability of ECs. Moreover, these ECs maintain excellent electrochemical attributes under high mechanical stress and thus hold promise for high power, flexible electronics.
“Our study demonstrates that our new graphene-based supercapacitors store as much charge as conventional batteries, but can be charged and discharged a hundred to a thousand times faster,” said Richard B. Kaner, professor of chemistry & materials science and engineering.
Although electrochemical capacitors (ECs), also known as supercapacitors or ultracapacitors, charge and discharge faster than batteries, they are still limited by low energy densities and slow rate capabilities. We used a standard LightScribe DVD optical drive to do the direct laser reduction of graphite oxide films to graphene. The produced films are mechanically robust, show high electrical conductivity (1738 siemens per meter) and specific surface area (1520 square meters per gram), and can thus be used directly as EC electrodes without the need for binders or current collectors, as is the case for conventional ECs. Devices made with these electrodes exhibit ultrahigh energy density values in different electrolytes while maintaining the high power density and excellent cycle stability of ECs. Moreover, these ECs maintain excellent electrochemical attributes under high mechanical stress and thus hold promise for high-power, flexible electronics.
The research team has fabricated LSG electrodes that do not have the problems of activated carbon electrodes that have so far limited the performance of commercial ECs. First, The LightScribe laser causes the simultaneous reduction and exfoliation of graphite oxide and produces an open network of LSG with substantially higher and more accessible surface area. This results in a sizable charge storage capacity for the LSG supercapacitors. The open network structure of the electrodes helps minimize the diffusion path of electrolyte ions, which is crucial for charging the device. This can be accounted for by the easily accessible flat graphene sheets, whereas most of the surface area of activated carbon resides in very small pores that limit the diffusion of ions. This means that LSG supercapacitors have the ability to deliver ultrahigh power in a short period of time whereas activated carbon cannot.
Additionally, LSG electrodes are mechanically robust and show high conductivity (over 1700 S/m) compared to activated carbons (10-100 S/m). This means that LSG electrodes can be directly used as supercapacitor electrodes without the need for binders or current collectors as is the case for conventional activated carbon ECs. Furthermore, these properties allow LSG to act as both the active material and current collector in the EC. The combination of both functions in a single layer leads to a simplified architecture and makes LSG supercapacitors cost-effective devices.