A research team at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia has developed a graphene-based electrode that could increase the storage capacity of batteries by ‘only’ 3000%. By combining it with supercapacitors — which are capable of charging and discharging power way faster than any traditional battery — the electrode prototype is able to hold stored charge for a longer period of time and keep leakage to a minimum.
Aside from boosting storage capacity, the electrode prototype might also be instrumental in hastening the development of self-powered electronic devices, vehicles and buildings as it makes use of technology that can perform the dual functions of capturing and storing solar energy.
One of the team members, Professor Min Gu, leader of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics at RMIT, said their new design was inspired by a plant called Polystichum munitum, a fern variety that is native to the western part of North America. He is specifically referring to the fern’s self-repeating patterns called fractals, which seem to be nature’s own solution to fill space in the most efficient way — the fact that the fern leaves are packed with veins make them extremely effective at storing energy, transporting water, and keeping an adequate flow of nutrients within the plant.
“Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes—which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes—and we’ve used this naturally efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level,” Professor Min Gu explained.
Tests have already shown that combining their ‘fractal-enabled and laser-reduced’ graphene-electrode prototype with supercapacitors results in a storage capacity that is 30 times higher than existing capacity limits. Since one of the biggest hurdles being faced by the solar industry is how to develop storage units or systems that can maintain the original amount of stored energy for future use, like during those periods when the sun is rarely out and there’s no solar power to collect and store, such capacitors would be ideal solar power storage alternatives.
According to lead author, Dr. Litty Thekkekara, basing their prototype on flexible thin film technology means it can be used on a number of applications. Eventually, the technology can be used to make self-powering wearables, portable tech devices, car panels, and building windows. For now, however, “The most exciting possibility is using this electrode with a solar cell, to provide a total on-chip energy harvesting and storage solution,” she said.
If they will succeed in perfecting this technology, solar power might finally be able to establish itself as a viable and practical source of energy.
The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports under the title “Bioinspired fractal electrodes for solar energy storages”.
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