Scientists at Linköping University’s Laboratory of Organic Electronics have invented what they believe is a major breakthrough in energy storage technology that could be used to store large amounts of energy from renewable sources and it’s made from something surprising: paper. Well, sort of.
The new material called Power Paper is a made from a cellulose pulp, just like regular paper, but it has a few upgrades that allow it to act like a supercapacitor. The cellulose fibers are broken down into tiny nano-sized fibers which are then added to a water solution along with an electrically charged polymer. The polymer coats the fibers and the liquid in between the fibers acts like an electrolyte.
“Thin films that function as capacitors have existed for some time. What we have done is to produce the material in three dimensions. We can produce thick sheets,” says Xavier Crispin, professor of organic electronics and co-author to the article just published in Advanced Science.
The material is made into sheets that are only a few tenths of a millimeter thick. A piece that is 6 inches in diameter can store as much as supercapacitors currently on the market. In the lab it has been able to recharge hundreds of times and each recharge only takes a few seconds. The researchers believe that in the future thick sheets of the Power Paper could function as back-up energy storage for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources that have variability in their electricity generation.
Power Paper could one day be a powerful device, but it’s also made from simple materials — cellulose and a readily available polymer — which will make it safer and less expensive that other materials that commonly go into supercapacitors and batteries. It’s also lightweight so it can scale up in energy storage without becoming too large in size and it’s waterproof. The material is also durable enough to be folded just like regular paper without compromising it’s effectiveness.
The researchers are now looking at next steps for making this Power Paper on an industrial scale, like finding a way to dehydrate the pulp on a large-scale when making the material and developing a paper machine that would produce the paper in sheets.