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New Carbon Material May Allow for Storage of Large Amounts of Renewable Energy

080916143910-large One of the biggest roadblocks to a future of renewable energy production is the ability to store such generated electricity. The current networks of power supply and storage simply have no chance of being able to provide necessary storage capacities for renewable sources such as solar and wind, given the propensity for spikes in generated electricity.

However engineers and scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have made a breakthrough in the development of a new carbon-based material that they believe might allow for at least a doubling of current electricity storage capabilities. The new structure is called grapheme, and measures in at one atom thick.

“Through such a device, electrical charge can be rapidly stored on the graphene sheets, and released from them as well for the delivery of electrical current and, thus, electrical power,” says Rod Ruoff, a mechanical engineering professor and a physical chemist. “There are reasons to think that the ability to store electrical charge can be about double that of current commercially used materials. We are working to see if that prediction will be borne out in the laboratory.”

One of the benefits of this breakthrough is the possible boost it could give to ultracapacitors. Batteries have long been the primary source of electrical storage, with ultracapacitors making a late arrival into the game, yet staying below the radar. But given that they last longer, have a high power capacity, and require lower maintenance, they are the preferred option and are slowly being commercialized.

“Our interest derives from the exceptional properties of these atom-thick and electrically conductive graphene sheets, because in principle all of the surface of this new carbon material can be in contact with the electrolyte,” says Ruoff, who holds the Cockrell Family Regents Chair in Engineering #7. “Graphene’s surface area of 2630 m2/gram (almost the area of a football field in about 1/500th of a pound of material) means that a greater number of positive or negative ions in the electrolyte can form a layer on the graphene sheets resulting in exceptional levels of stored charge.”

The use of graphene in ultracapacitors could significantly improve the efficiency and performance of electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as more obsequious items such as cell phones. But the real gold mine will be in whether graphene will provide a means to increase reliability on wind and solar farms for electrical generation.

Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

More on Renewable Energies from the GO Network

Carbon Capture and Storage Goes Online in Germany
Renewable Energy: How Storage Can Make it Cheaper & More Reliable
On Board Energy Storage – Reason Automobile Engineers Chose (Choose) Fossil Fuel
Molten Salt May Be Solution to Solar Energy Storage

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