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Transparent & flexible supercapacitors made possible

22 Nov 2012

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Northeastern University mechanical and industrial engineering professor Yung Joon Jung has managed to develop a thin, flexible and transparent supercapacitor, together with a team of researchers from Rice University and Northeastern University.

The technology is based on a nanomaterial developed in Jung's lab two years ago, which they call a nanocup. One of the perceived advantages of nanotubes, Jung explained, is the potential to fill them with other materials, such as electrolyte in the case of a supercapacitor. The inner capacity of nanotubes has turned out to be too small to achieve this capability, "but if you have a cup," Jung said, pointing to his own coffee mug, "you can put anything in it you want."

The first step to making a nanocup is etching nanoscopic divots into an aluminium film through oxidation. By tweaking the voltage and time of this process, researchers can tailor the size of the cups. The second step is to layer carbon atoms onto the aluminium mould using standard carbon nanotube technology.

 Yung Joon Jung

Using their novel carbon nanocup material, Yung Joon Jung and his team have developed a supercapacitor that is both flexible and transparent.

Greater contact with electrolyte

Hyunyoung Jung, a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Jung's lab, emphasized that the supercapacitor's novelty is derived from the large surface area and the open textured surface of the nanocups. This morphology allows them to come into greater contact with the electrolyte, which drives the formation of an electrical field and thus the energy storage functionality.

The supercapacitor, which has not yet been optimised, is able to store energy and provide power at levels comparable to other devices. The difference, however, is its ability to be incorporated into thin film devices. "If we give up transparency and mechanical flexibility," Jung said, "we can easily go to that level of commercially available devices. But my goal is not to lose these two qualities and simultaneously develop high-performance energy devices."

The research team has already used a flexible and transparent prototype to power a light. The group plans to make continued improvements in power generation and energy storage.

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