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Takes a licking and keeps on storing

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Posted April 24, 2019

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis made an energy storage device that can withstand a hammer striking it more than 40 times. The shatterproof supercapacitor is also nonflammable, unlike lithium-ion batteries. The new work is the cover story of the issue of the journal Sustainable Energy and Fuels.

“Accidentally dropping electronics, such as a laptop or cellphone, is a common scenario that may lead to the failure of the device,” said Julio D’Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry in Arts & Sciences. “In some cases, energy storage devices catch on fire due to impact-caused failure. The chance of impact damage will only increase as electronics become more flexible and worn on the human body.”

By controlling the formation of rust in solution, researchers in Arts & Sciences grew a micrometer-thick porous mat of conducting fibers affixed to a soft, pliable layer of organic plastic. This new energy storage device can withstand a hammer striking it more than 40 times. Image credit: D’Arcy laboratory / Washington University

Hongmin Wang, a PhD candidate in chemistry who works in D’Arcy’s lab, led the effort to create the new material.

By controlling the formation of rust in solution, researchers grew a micrometer-thick porous mat of conducting fibers affixed to a soft, pliable layer of organic plastic. The result is somewhat similar to an open-faced sandwich.

“This is the same mechanism that is responsible for the formation of rust on the surface of a wet piece of steel,” D’Arcy said. “Here, we have carefully designed the nanostructure orientation so that a polymer film assembles parallel to a rusted surface. It produces an interwoven mat of polymer nanofibers with a textile-like structure that is flexible and ideal for storing energy in a supercapacitor.”

The researchers bent their new material to different angles over and over again. They hammered it repeatedly, and they also tested it against an impact equivalent to a car collision at 30 mph. The same amount of impact would fracture other materials such as metal and carbon.

The device held up well against these extreme tests: after the first hammer strike, it retained 80 percent of its ability to store energy at peak efficiencies; after 40 repeated strikes, it was still at 74 percent.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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