Case for Energy

Tuesday 27th May 2014

Imagine a future in which our electrical gadgets are no longer limited by plugs and external power sources. Instead the case they are in could power your device, such as a laptop whose case serves as its battery, or an electric car powered by energy stored in its chassis, or a home where the dry wall and siding store the electricity that runs the lights and appliances.

Vanderbilt University graduate student Andrew Westover and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Cary Pint have been working the the University’s Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory making nondescript small, dull grey wafers - structural supercapacitors.

“These devices demonstrate – for the first time as far as we can tell – that it is possible to create materials that can store and discharge significant amounts of electricity while they are subject to realistic static loads and dynamic forces, such as vibrations or impacts,” said Pint. “Andrew has managed to make our dream of structural energy storage materials into a reality.”

It is important because structural energy storage will change the way in which a wide variety of technologies are developed in the future. “When you can integrate energy into the components used to build systems, it opens the door to a whole new world of technological possibilities. All of a sudden, the ability to design technologies at the basis of health, entertainment, travel and social communication will not be limited by plugs and external power sources,” Pint said.

The new device, a supercapacitor, stores electricity by assembling electrically charged ions on the surface of a porous material, instead of storing it in chemical reactions the way batteries do. As a result, supercaps can charge and discharge in minutes, instead of hours, and operate for millions of cycles, instead of thousands of cycles like batteries.

In a paper appearing online May 19 in the journal Nano Letters, Pint and Westover report that their new structural supercapacitor operates flawlessly in storing and releasing electrical charge while subject to stresses or pressures up to 44 psi and vibrational accelerations over 80 g (significantly greater than those acting on turbine blades in a jet engine).

Furthermore, the mechanical robustness of the device doesn’t compromise its energy storage capability. “In an unpackaged, structurally integrated state our supercapacitor can store more energy and operate at higher voltages than a packaged, off-the-shelf commercial supercapacitor, even under intense dynamic and static forces,” Pint said.

The intensity of interest in “multifunctional” devices of this sort is reflected by the fact that the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy is investing $8.7 million in research projects that focus specifically on incorporating energy storage into structural materials. There have also been recent press reports of several major efforts to develop multifunctional materials or structural batteries for use in electric vehicles and for military applications. However, Pint pointed out that there have not been any reports in the technical literature of tests performed on structural energy storage materials that show how they function under realistic mechanical loads.

Source: Vanderbilt University.

Categories: General, Reviews, Technology

Tuesday 27th May 2014


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