Power Trip

Sunday 19th May 2013

Graphene, is a material composed of pure carbon, with atoms arranged in regular hexagonal patterns with the qualities of being the lightest and yet strongest materials on earth - but it is not readily available.

Graphene could revolutionize energy technology, as graphene is perfect to use in supercapacitors, energy storage devices which can provide a burst of power, and batteries. The problem with such a ‘super material’ is that currently it is very expensive to produce, hence graphene is beyond the means of manufacturers who make or use supercapacitors.

But now work being carried out by researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, are developing a way to make a nanomaterial using hemp fiber that is graphene-like, from an agricultural byproduct which is usually regarded as waste.

David Mitlin, a Chemical Engineer at UAlberta, knows that if they can make a cost-competitive graphene like material which can be used in producing a supercapicitor at a fraction of the cost, it will be a massive step in energy storage technology.

Mitlin and his team are using the bark like “bast” layer of the hemp plant, which they describe as a nanocomposite - layers of hemicellulose, lignin and crystalline cellulose. The team have discovered that using the right process will separate it into nanosheets, mimicking graphene.

These thin, porous materials have proved to be able to deliver a rapid path for electronic charges to move in and out, the most important characteristic of a supercapacitor.

Now if they use the processed material as electrodes, they could build a supercapacitor with over twice the maximum power density of activated carbon, which is what is normally used in supercapacitors.

So a university power trip all from a cannabis plant - nothing new there then!

Picture of hemp fibers by User:Natrij (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Categories: General, Renewable, Reviews, Technology

Sunday 19th May 2013

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