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Nanocapacitors to store renewable energy

Posted: 26 Mar 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:electrical energy  energy storage  battery systems  nanocapacitors 

Many people turn to hybrid electric cars and solar panel installation to save money and energy. But, researchers argue, that both have a problem—the technology to store the electrical power and energy is inadequate.

Battery systems that fit in cars don't hold enough energy for driving distances, yet take hours to recharge and don't give much power for acceleration. Renewable sources like solar and wind deliver significant power only part time, but devices to store their energy are expensive and too inefficient to deliver enough power for surge demand.

Researchers at the Maryland NanoCentre at the University of Maryland have answered these problems with the development of new systems for storing electrical energy derived from alternative sources that are, in some cases, 10 times more efficient than what is commercially available.

"Renewable energy sources like solar and wind provide time-varying, somewhat unpredictable energy supply, which must be captured and stored as electrical energy until demanded," said Gary Rubloff, director of the University of Maryland's NanoCenter. "Conventional devices to store and deliver electrical energy—batteries and capacitors—cannot achieve the needed combination of high energy density, high power, and fast recharge that are essential for our energy future."


(L-R) University of Maryland Professors Sang Bok Lee and Gary Rubloff
Photo by: Mike Morgan

Researchers working with Professor Rubloff and his collaborator, Professor Sang Bok Lee, have developed a method to significantly enhance the performance of electrical energy storage devices.

Using new processes central to nanotechnology, they create millions of identical nanostructures with shapes tailored to transport energy as electrons rapidly to and from very large surface areas where they are stored. Materials behave according to physical laws of nature. The Maryland researchers exploit unusual combinations of these behaviours (called self-assembly, self-limiting reaction, and self-alignment) to construct millions—and ultimately billions—of tiny, virtually identical nanostructures to receive, store, and deliver electrical energy.

"These devices exploit unique combinations of materials, processes, and structures to optimise both energy and power density—combinations that, taken together, have real promise for building a viable next-generation technology, and around it, a vital new sector of the tech economy," Rubloff said.

"The goal for electrical energy storage systems is to simultaneously achieve high power and high energy density to enable the devices to hold large amounts of energy, to deliver that energy at high power, and to recharge rapidly (the complement to high power)," he continued.

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