Meet the scientific accident that could change the world
io9, 26 February 2013
Last year, researchers at UCLA made a rather fantastic, if serendipitous, discovery. A team of scientists led by chemist Richard Kaner had just finished devising an efficient method for producing high-quality sheets of the Nobel-prize winning supermaterial known as graphene… with a consumer-grade DVD drive. That was groundbreaking in and of itself, but the real surprise came when Maher El-Kady, a researcher in Kaner's lab, wired a small square of their high quality carbon sheets up to a lightbulb. Then something incredible happened.
As the video above explains, Kaner and El-Kady had stumbled upon an energy storage medium with revolutionary potential. Imagine filling your smart phone with a long-lasting charge in just a couple seconds, or an electric car in a minute. Future applications, first described in a March 2012 issue of Science, looked very promising.
Fast forward one year, and Kaner and El-Kady are even closer to realizing a tomorrow rich with supercapacitor technology. In a paper published in a recent issue of Nature Communications, the researchers report that El-Kady's original fabrication process (highlighted in the video) can be made even more efficient. More efficient production of high quality graphene means it's scalable. And scalability, of course, can lead to manufacturing and wide-scale technological implementation. As the researchers note in the abstract to their paper:
Here we demonstrate a scalable fabrication of graphene micro-supercapacitors over large areas by direct laser writing on graphite oxide films using a standard LightScribe DVD burner. More than 100 micro-supercapacitors can be produced on a single disc in 30 min or less… These micro-supercapacitors demonstrate a power density of ~200 W cm−3, which is among the highest values achieved for any supercapacitor.
The upshot? The supercapacitors that Kaner and El-Kady are producing with freaking DVD burners could find their way into consumer tech way sooner than many might have originally guessed. (While minute-charge electric cars may still be a ways off, the fact these sheets are as unobtrusive and flexible as they are bodes well for their incorporation into plenty of near-future technologies — roll-up displays, for instance, or e-paper.) According to Kaner, his lab is already courting partners in industry. Color us excited.