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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Supercapacitors As Structural Materials

The future is coming at us fast. Supercapacitors will be integral elements in the structure of virtually everything as this Gizmag article entitled Structural supercapacitors could make batteries and power cords obsolete very accurately (save one minor detail) makes clear:
Imagine using a mobile phone powered entirely by its casing, or an electric car that runs off power stored in its chassis. Researchers at Vanderbilt University have created a structural supercapacitor that could, they believe, bring this closer to reality, making batteries and power cords obsolete. The structural supercapacitor could make it possible to store energy directly in structural materials, allowing them to deliver power long-term while surviving the real-life mechanical stresses they're bound to experience.
The team's new supercapacitor looks like a thin grey wafer, and is made of silicon electrodes that have been chemically treated to have inner surfaces containing nanoscale pores. Instead of storing energy in chemical reactions, like batteries, the supercapictor stores power by assembling electrically-charged ions on the surface of the porous material. In a recent test, the supercapacitor was able to store and release power without a hitch, the team reported, even when it was subjected to vibrational accelerations exceeding 80 g and stresses of up to 44 psi. "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 Cary Pint, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Vanderbilt University.
Being able to create hardy structural materials that can efficiently store and deliver energy opens up many exciting possibilities. For instance, instead of being inert, the walls of a home or a building could store and deliver power to all the home's lights and appliances.
"The majority of building materials that we use in these systems have absolutely no function than to just maintain mechanical integrity," Pint tells Gizmag. "What if we could take the tons of materials used in homes and convert them to energy storage systems that were not more expensive, could perform the same mechanical function as building materials, but could have decades worth of energy storage capability built in?".
"For a home or stationary powered system, this technology is the seed to putting solar panels on the roof and enabling power delivery around the clock without the need for a grid, even when the sun isn't shining," he adds.
Yes, indeed, that's the near future and it's coming fast.

Oh, the one item they got wrong? Supercapacitors won't have one-tenth the storage capacity of lithium-ion batteries. They will have more.

This reminds us of Robert Heinlein's conception of Sun Stones. When a new home is constructed, it is built around an energy storage device that can provide energy for a very long time.

Welcome to the future. It's so bright you have to wear shades!