Imagine self-powering cars, buildings, smart phones, and laptops supported by solar power and inspired by a plant. Researchers at RMIT University have developed an innovative electrode which has the potential to boost the capacity of existing energy storage technologies by almost 3000%. This opens myriad ways of development of flexible, thin film, all-in-one solar capture and storage.
The new electrode is featured to work with supercapacitors, which in comparison to conventional batteries can charge and discharge faster. Min Gu, Leader of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics and Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship at RMIT, said that the new design was drawn from nature’s genius solution to filling a space in the most efficient way possible. This was done through repeating patterns that are known as fractals.
Gu said that the leaves of the western swordfern were densely crammed with veins, was extremely efficient for storing energy, and also transporting water around the plant. Gu added that the electrode was based on fractal shapes, which are said to be self-replicating, and was likened to mini structures within snowflakes. The research team used this natural and efficient design at a nano level to enhance solar energy storage.
The prototype which is combined the electrode with supercapacitors has reportedly shown that there was an increase of storage capacity 30 times which was more than current capacity limits. The supercapacitors featured with boosted capacity could offer long-term reliability and rapid-burst energy release. So, for someone who would want to use solar energy on a cloudy day, this would make a perfect alternative for solar power storage.
Enabled with fractals and reduced with lasers, the graphene electrodes, when combined with supercapacitors can hold the stored charge for a longer period with minimal leakage. The fractal design reflected the self-repeating shape of the veins of the western swordfern, Polystichum munitum, which was native to western North America. Litty Thekkekara, a Ph.D. researcher said that the prototype was based on flexible thin film technology and its novel applications were limitless.
The flexible thin film solar could be used absolutely anywhere from building windows to car panels and being used in smartphones and more. Thekkekara also said that charging phones or charging stations for the hybrid cars would no longer need batteries.