Researchers use 3D printing to make ultrafast graphene supercapacitor

February 22, 2016 by Tim Stephens
Yat Li (left) and Tianyu Liu worked with researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to develop supercapacitors using 3D-printed graphene aerogel electrodes. Credit: T. Stephens

Scientists at UC Santa Cruz and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have reported the first example of ultrafast 3D-printed graphene supercapacitor electrodes that outperform comparable electrodes made via traditional methods. Their results open the door to novel, unconstrained designs of highly efficient energy storage systems for smartphones, wearables, implantable devices, electric cars and wireless sensors.

Using a 3D-printing process called direct-ink writing and a graphene-oxide composite ink, the team was able to print micro-architected electrodes and build supercapacitors with excellent performance characteristics. The results were published online January 20 in the journal Nano Letters and will be featured on the cover of the March issue of the journal.

"Supercapacitor devices using our 3D-printed graphene electrodes with thicknesses on the order of millimeters exhibit outstanding capacitance retention and power densities," said corresponding author Yat Li, associate professor of chemistry at UC Santa Cruz. "This performance greatly exceeds the performance of conventional devices with thick electrodes, and it equals or exceeds the performance of reported devices made with electrodes 10 to 100 times thinner."

LLNL engineer Cheng Zhu and UCSC graduate student Tianyu Liu are lead authors of the paper. "This breaks through the limitations of what 2D manufacturing can do," Zhu said. "We can fabricate a large range of 3D architectures. In a phone, for instance, you would only need to leave a small area for energy storage. The geometry can be very complex."

Fast charging

Supercapacitors also can charge incredibly fast, Zhu said, in theory requiring just a few minutes or seconds to reach full capacity. In the future, the researchers believe newly designed 3D-printed supercapacitors will be used to create unique electronics that are currently difficult or even impossible to make using other synthetic methods, including fully customized smartphones and paper-based or foldable devices, while at the same time achieving unprecedented levels of performance.

According to Li, several key breakthroughs made these novel devices possible, starting with the development of a printable graphene-based ink. Modification of the 3D printing scheme to be compatible with aerogel processing made it possible to maintain the important mechanical and electrical properties of single graphene sheets in the 3D-printed structures. Finally, the use of 3D printing to intelligently engineer periodic macropores into the graphene electrode significantly enhances mass transport, allowing the to support much faster charge/discharge rates without degrading its capacity.

"This work provides an example of how 3D-printed materials such as graphene aerogels can significantly expand the design space for fabricating high-performance and fully integrable devices optimized for a broad range of applications," Li said.

The advantages of graphene-based inks include their ultrahigh surface area, lightweight properties, elasticity, and superior electrical conductivity. The graphene composite aerogel supercapacitors are also extremely stable, the researchers reported, capable of nearly fully retaining their energy capacity after 10,000 consecutive charging and discharging cycles.

"Graphene is a really incredible material because it is essentially a single atomic layer that can be created from graphite. Because of its structure and crystalline arrangement, it has really phenomenal capabilities," said LLNL materials engineer Eric Duoss.

Over the next year, the researchers intend to expand the technology by developing new 3D designs, using different inks, and improving the performance of existing materials.

Explore further: 3D-printed aerogels improve energy storage

More information: Cheng Zhu et al. Supercapacitors Based on Three-Dimensional Hierarchical Graphene Aerogels with Periodic Macropores, Nano Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b04965

Related Stories

Energy storage of the future

October 20, 2014

Personal electronics such as cell phones and laptops could get a boost from some of the lightest materials in the world.

From graphene hydrogels to high-performance anodes

March 18, 2015

How can the electrodes of batteries be made more efficient? In the journal Angewandte Chemie, American scientists describe a powerful approach that uses solvated graphene frameworks as the anode material. Assembled in a lithium ...

Kitchen sponge supercapacitor has many porous benefits

February 6, 2015

By dipping small pieces of an ordinary kitchen sponge into solutions of nanoscale electrode materials, scientists have created a light-weight, low-cost supercapacitor that benefits from the sponge's porous structure. The ...

Recommended for you

Particles self-assemble into Archimedean tilings

December 8, 2016

(Phys.org)—For the first time, researchers have simulated particles that can spontaneously self-assemble into networks that form geometrical arrangements called Archimedean tilings. The key to realizing these structures ...

Nano-calligraphy on graphene

December 8, 2016

Scientists at The University of Manchester and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have demonstrated a method to chemically modify small regions of graphene with high precision, leading to extreme miniaturisation of chemical ...

ANU invention to inspire new night-vision specs

December 7, 2016

Scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have designed a nano crystal around 500 times smaller than a human hair that turns darkness into visible light and can be used to create light-weight night-vision glasses.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tear88
not rated yet Feb 22, 2016
This sounds very interesting and innovative. Now can we hear all the negatives that will result in this breakthrough fading away into obscurity along with so many other innovations? Will it scale, industrially and financially? Will the cost per storage unit go down to or below current costs? Does it degrade rapidly? Is it more sensitive to heat, or cold, or impact, than existing technology?
Kudos to the teams at UCSC and LLNL. I just hope this breakthrough doesn't become another minor footnote in capacitor history.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.