Supercapacitor breakthrough to power more devices


Tan and her assistants using a simplified model in their lab to show how supercapacitors work. — UiTM

Tan and her assistants using a simplified model in their lab to show how supercapacitors work. — UiTM

Researchers at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) and the National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan claim they have found a way to make supercapacitors far cheaper by using a different coating material for the electrode. 

UiTM’s Faculty of Applied Sciences senior lecturer, Assoc Prof Dr Tan Winie, says her team has devised an alternative to ­­carbon-graphene mix which is the industry ­standard.

Her team uses metal transition oxide which costs as little as RM2 per gram ­compared to carbon-graphene which costs between RM400 and RM500 per gram.

The savings come from the materials used – ferum, cobalt and oxide – which are more common. 

She says the metal transition oxide coating makes the conductor work like a sponge, allowing it to absorb and retain much more ­energy.

Supercapacitors can be recharged very quickly but they are not used as widely as batteries because they have a lower energy density.

So while a typical compact battery in a smartphone can keep it running the whole day, a supercapacitor with an equal amount of energy will be a dozen times larger.

However, supercapacitors that are ­structured in the right manner and stacked together could hold as much energy as a ­battery, she says. 

Another advantage of supercapacitors is that they can be charged over and over without degrading them much, unlike batteries.

Batteries such as lithium-ion which rely on chemical reaction to generate power degrade faster than supercapacitors.

For instance, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has a Bluetooth-enabled stylus that’s ­powered by a supercapacitor. It only takes 40 seconds to power up the stylus for 30 ­minutes. And theoretically, the S Pen stylus could outlive not just the phone battery but the phone itself. 

A team of around 10 staff from UiTM and 20 from the National Chiao Tung University took three years to make the breakthrough. 

The UiTM team lead by Tan researched the fabrication method for the metal ­transition oxide, while the Taiwanese team is developing a new bendable material on which to apply the metal transition oxide coating.

The bendable material would be crucial in creating a superconductor stack that can store and output much more energy.

The UiTM team is still testing the metal transition oxide to make sure it’s safe and stable so it won’t catch fire or explode.

She says the target is to create one with a recharge cycle that will let it last five years. However, testing has been slow because it takes days just to complete several thousand recharge cycles.

She believes industry players will be ­interested in new supercapacitor materials and fabrication methods as they could drive down production costs.

The discovery has already garnered industry kudos, netting the project the Special and Gold award for High-Performance, Low Cost Electrode for Energy Storage System category and a Silver award for Next-Generation Energy Harvesting Device category at the Malaysia Technology Expo in February.