Fabric like supercap could bring safer energy storage


A fabric-like material electrode developed by a team from Drexel University could help to make energy storage devices less susceptible to leaks or meltdowns. The supercapacitor – described as a ‘furry sponge infused with gelatin’ – offers an alternative to the flammable electrolyte commonly found batteries.

The approach developed by Professor Vibha Kalra and her team uses an ion-rich gel electrolyte absorbed in a freestanding mat of porous carbon nanofibres. “We have eliminated the component that can catch fire in these devices,” Prof Kalra said. “In doing so, we have also created an electrode that could enable energy storage devices to become lighter and better.”

Not only is the supercapacitor solvent-free, but its compact design is also said to be more durable, with an energy storage capacity and charge-discharge lifespan better than comparable devices currently in use. The team also says the electrode material can operate at temperatures of up to 300°C.

Prof Kalra noted that today’s electrodes feature fine powders that need to be blended with binding agents and made into a slurry, before being applied to the device. “These binders add dead weight to the device, as they are not conductive materials, and hinder its performance,” she said. “Our electrodes are freestanding, eliminating the need for binders, whose processing can account for as much as 20% of the cost of manufacturing an electrode.”

Prof Kalra’s group is now looking to apply its technique to the production of solid-state batteries and exploring potential applications in smart fabrics.

Graham Pitcher

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