Want to charge your laptop in a minute? New research into supercapacitors could pave the way

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Imagine if your dead laptop or phone could be charged in a minute or an electric car could be fully powered in 10 minutes.

While not yet possible, new research by a team of CU Boulder scientists could potentially lead to such advances.

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Published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scienceresearchers in Ankur Gupta’s laboratory discovered how tiny charged particles called ions move within a complex network of tiny pores. The breakthrough could lead to the development of more efficient energy storage devices such as supercapacitors, said Gupta, an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering.

“Given the critical role of energy in the planet’s future, I felt inspired to apply my knowledge of chemical engineering to the advancement of energy storage devices,” said Gupta. “It felt like the subject was slightly underexposed and as such it was the perfect opportunity.”

Gupta explained that several chemical techniques are used to study flow in porous materials such as oil reservoirs and water filtration, but are not yet fully exploited in some energy storage systems.

The discovery is important not only for energy storage in vehicles and electronic devices, but also for electricity grids, where fluctuating energy demands require efficient storage to avoid waste during periods of low demand and ensure rapid delivery during high demand. to guarantee demand.

Supercapacitors, energy storage devices that rely on ion accumulation in their pores, have fast charging times and longer lifespans compared to batteries.

“The main appeal of supercapacitors lies in their speed,” says Gupta. “So how can we make the charging and release of energy faster? Due to the more efficient movement of ions.”

Their findings change Kirchhoff’s law, which has governed current flow in electrical circuits since 1845 and is an important part of high school students’ science lessons. Unlike electrons, ions move due to both electric fields and diffusion, and the researchers found that their movements at pore intersections are different from what was described in Kirchhoff’s law.

Prior to the study, ion movements were only described in the literature in one straight pore. This research allows the ion movement in a complex network of thousands of interconnected pores to be simulated and predicted in a few minutes.

“That’s the leap of faith,” said Gupta. “We have found the missing link.”

Reference: Henrique F, Żuk PJ, Gupta A. A network model to predict ion transport in porous materials. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2024;121(22):e2401656121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2401656121

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