Often the development of new green technology can seem like a fruitless struggle. This is especially true when a green solution is less powerful and more expensive than its “dirty,” fossil fuel-based counterpart. That’s why it’s so exciting when bioresearchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign develop a new supercapacitor that actually matches the potency of today’s leading supercapacitors at a significantly lower financial and environmental expense.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a supercapacitor is like the wonder child of a capacitor and a battery. It can hold a charge and dispense electricity over a long period of time like a battery, but it can also take in and store energy to be released in sudden bursts like a capacitor. This makes it an excellent power source, especially for applications that need an instant power boost like a camera when it flashes or a power grid during a peak demand.
Usually, supercapacitors (pictured above, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Wuestenfisch1) are very expensive machines that run on activated carbon, or in other words utilize fossil fuel. To maximize the surface area on the inside, the device is made up of a complicated network of pores made from carbon and oil-based plastic. It’s very expensive to achieve such detail, which keeps the price of the supercapacitors very high. In fact, the two main obstacles to their mass production are their cost and the large amount of fossil fuels they require.
Urbana-Champaign bioresearcher Junhua Jiang (left, courtesy of UIUC) and his team looked to address both of these issues at once and came up with what’s called a wood-biochar supercapacitor. Biochar is created by heating wood in a low-oxygen environment, which prevents it from combusting but turns it into a nice fuel source. This biochar also contains a porous network, so no energy or plastic has to be spent creating a complex network from scratch.
So how does this green alternative compare to the status quo? Take it from Jiang himself, who states in a UIUC article that “The performance of our biochar materials is comparable to the performance of today’s advanced carbon materials, including carbon nanotubes and graphenes,” which in itself is impressive. But here’s the kicker: “The material costs of producing wood-biochar supercapacitors are five to 10 times lower than those associated with activated carbon.” Factor in the environmental benefits, and it’s clear to see the green way is the right way, no matter what angle you take.
These superb supercapacitors were made possible by funding from the Illinois Hazardous Waste Research Fund and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Basic Research. More funding information related to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the research it conducts can be found using the link below:
If you are a UIUC researcher or laboratory supplier, and would like to boost awareness of your products and increase scientific sales, plan to attend Biotechnology Calendar, Inc.'s next Urbana-Champaign BioResearch Product Faire, held on the University of Illinois campus. Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. has been bringing life science research trade shows to top research campuses for 20 years now. If you’d like to attend a show closer to home, please see our 2013 schedule and our new 2014 schedule.