A soft solution to the hard problem of energy storage

Soft assembly of MXene allows the 2-D materials to be stacked vertically, maintaining ion diffusion as the thickness of the material is increased. Credit: Drexel University

It’s great in the lab, but will it actually work? That’s the million-dollar question perpetually leveled at engineering researchers. For a family of layered nanomaterials, developed and studied at Drexel University—and heralded as the future of energy storage—that answer is now, yes.

For some time, researchers have been working on using two-dimensional materials, atomically thin nanomaterials, as components for faster-charging, longer-lasting batteries, and supercapacitors. But the problem with the existing techniques for doing so is that when the thickness of the material layer is increased to about 100 microns—roughly the width of a human hair, which is the industry standard for energy storage devices—the materials lose their functionality.

Recently published research from Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania shows a new technique for manipulating two-dimensional materials that allows them to be shaped into films of a practically usable thickness while maintaining the properties that make them exceptional candidates for use in supercapacitor electrodes.

The study, published in the journal Nature, focuses on using soft materials—similar to those in the liquid crystal displays of phones and televisions—as a guide for self-assembly of MXene sheets. MXenes, are a class of nanomaterials discovered at Drexel in 2011, that is particularly well-suited for energy storage.

“Our method relies on a marriage between soft material assembly and functional 2-D nanomaterials,” said Yury Gogotsi, Ph.D., Distinguished University and Bach professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering, who was a co-author of the research. “The resulting electrode films show rapid ion transport, outstanding rate handling, and charge storage equal to or exceeding commercial carbon electrodes.”

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