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Silicon supercapacitor could store electricity inside a silicon chip

A team of researchers at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee has designed a supercapacitor made primarily of silicon that has shown much improved power density over its commercially available alternatives. The advance could allow for interesting integration of battery technology in everyday electronics, from solar cells to smartphones.

Silicon chip with porous surface next to the special furnace where it was coated with grap…
The porous silicon was insulated by coating it with a thin layer of graphene (Image: Vande…
The silicon supercapacitor showed higher energy densities than commercial devices, though …
On the left, the electrolyte used in the supercapacitor; in the middle, the furnace that w…
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Supercapacitors store electricity by gathering ions on the surface of two plates soaked in an electrolyte solution. Because the number of ions that can be stored depends on the surface area of the plates, these are usually coated with materials, such as activated carbon, that are highly porous at the nanometric scale.

While supercapacitors can’t quite match the energy storage capabilities of lithium-ion batteries, they can absorb and release charge much more rapidly and have a significantly longer lifespan. Today, supercapacitors are used in applications ranging from stabilizing the power supply in portable electronics to supporting the KERS system in Formula 1 cars.

Scientists have tried to improve on the amount of energy that supercapacitors can store by depositing even more porous materials materials such as carbon nanotubes on their plates, but these attempts have only produced marginal improvements that have been hard to replicate consistently.

Assistant professor Cary Pint and his colleagues at Vanderbilt chose to attack the problem from a new and unusual angle by attempting to build a capacitor out of porous silicon


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