Friday, April 10, 2009

Fluxcapacitor is back in the future

A supercapacitor – a device that can unleash large amounts of charge very quickly – has been created using printing technology for the first time. The advance will pave the way for "printed" power supplies that could be useful as gadgets become thinner, lighter and even flexible.

Advances in electronics mean portable gadgets are shrinking in size but growing in their energy demands, and conventional batteries are struggling to cope.

Batteries are slow to recharge because they store energy chemically. By contrast, capacitors, which are common in electronics, are short-term stores of electrical energy that charge almost instantaneously but hold little energy.

In recent years capacitors able to store thousands of times as much energy as standard ones, called supercapacitors, have been developed. They are charged by applying a voltage to two electrodes suspended in a solution so that positive ions head to one electrode and negative ions to the other.

Now, a team led by George Grüner at the University of California, Los Angeles, has printed a supercapacitor for the first time, building on earlier theoretical work to provide quick bursts of power that today's electronics devices demand.

Team members sprayed carbon nanotubes onto a plastic film – two such films act as both the device's electrodes and charge collectors. Between the two films, the team sandwiched a gel electrolyte made by mixing a water-soluble synthetic polymer with phosphoric acid and water.

It's a Capacitor Jim, but not as we know it!

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