Batteries have been getting a good deal of attention lately, thanks to the much-publicized Dreamliner problems and the possibility that lithium-ion batteries played a role in them. The Dreamliner’s troubles have spurred renewed interest in supercapacitors, which, like batteries, can store an electrical charge but can be charged or discharged much more quickly.
Last year, Ric Kaner a professor of inorganic chemistry at UCLA brought significant attention to supercapacitors thanks to a short film that described the accidental discovery of a graphene supercapacitor that could power a light bulb for five minutes following a charge of roughly two seconds. Titled “Super Supercapacitor,“ the film recounts how Kaner along with PhD candidate Maher F. El-Kadyh sought to develop a practical method of producing graphene. They began by coating graphite oxide onto DVDs and then hit them with laser light, which made it deoxygenate and turn into graphene. The method was the first solution-based technique used for the large-scale production of graphene.
“The real discovery was yet to come,” however, said Kaner in the clip, referring to El-Kadyh’s incidental discovery that graphene supercapacitor could be power a light bulb for minutes after charging it for a couple of seconds. “I thought we had something very important. I thought the world change at that point.” Once commercialized, graphene supercapacitors could enable portable devices to run all day long after charging them from roughly 30 seconds to a minute. Impressively, they could charge 100 to 1000 times faster than conventional batteries while avoiding their toxicity problems.