Highly conductive 3D graphene structures for use in super-capacitors, have been developed by a joint China-Japan research effort.
The research team came from MANA, the International Centre for Materials Nanoarchitectonics at Tsukuba, Japan, the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Southeast University, Nanjing, China and the Department of Physics and Materials Science at the City University of Hong Kong.
Graphene sheets are immensely strong, lightweight and excellent at conducting electricity, and the macroscopical three-dimensional graphene assemblies should retain the properties of nanoscale graphene flakes.
However, recent attempts to make 3D graphene have resulted in weak conductivity due to poor contact between graphene sheets. Loss of strength is also a problem, and self-supporting 3D graphene has not yet been produced.
Now the researchers have created a new way of making 3D graphene using bubbles blown in a polymeric glucose solution. The resulting 3D graphene is robust and maintains excellent conductivity.
Inspired by the ancient food art of ‘blown sugar’, The team reasoned that the strutted, coherent nature of conjoined bubbles would lend itself to strength and conductivity if graphene could be structured in the same way.
The researchers created a syrup of ordinary sugar and ammonium chloride. They heated the syrup, generating a glucose-based polymer called melanoidin, which was then blown into bubbles using gases released by the ammonium. The team found the best quality end-product resulted from a balance of equal ammonium decomposition and glucose polymerization during this stage.
As the bubbles grew, the remaining syrup drained out of the bubble walls, leaving within intersections of three bubbles.
Under further heating, deoxidisation and dehydrogenation, the melanoidin gradually formed ‘strutted graphene’: a coherent 3D structure made up of graphene membranes linked by graphene strut frameworks, which resulted from original bubble walls and intersectional skeletons respectively.
The bubble structure allows free movement of electrons throughout the network, meaning that the graphene retains full conductivity.
Mechanical strength and elasticity of the 3D graphene is such that the team was able to compress it down to 80% of its original size with little loss of conductive properties or stability.
The researchers claim to have reliably produced gram-level strutted 3D graphene and predict the process can be scaled to produce the material at low cost.
A supercapacitor has made from the sugar-derived 3D graphene, delivering around 106W/kg. “Maximum-power-density is highest among 3D graphene-based aqueous super-capacitors,” claimed the team.
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