Beyond batteries: Storing power in a sheet of nanocomposite paper
Along with its ability to function in temperatures up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and down to 100 below zero, the device is completely integrated and can be printed like paper. The device is also unique in that it can function as both a high-energy battery and a high-power supercapacitor, which are generally separate components in most electrical systems. Another key feature is the capability to use human blood or sweat to help power the battery.

Details of the project are outlined in the paper “Flexible Energy Storage Devices Based on Nanocomposite Paper” published Aug. 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The semblance to paper is no accident: more than 90 percent of the device is made up of cellulose, the same plant cells used in newsprint, loose leaf, lunch bags, and nearly every other type of paper.

Rensselaer researchers infused this paper with aligned carbon nanotubes, which give the device its black color. The nanotubes act as electrodes and allow the storage devices to conduct electricity. The device, engineered to function as both a lithium-ion battery and a supercapacitor, can provide the long, steady power output comparable to a conventional battery, as well as a supercapacitor’s quick burst of high energy.

The device can be rolled, twisted, folded, or cut into any number of shapes with no loss of mechanical integrity or efficiency. The paper batteries can also be stacked, like a ream of printer paper, to boost the total power output.

“It’s essentially a regular piece of paper, but it’s made in a very intelligent way,” said paper co-author Robert Linhardt, the Ann and John H. Broadbent Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering at Rensselaer.

“We’re not putting pieces together – it’s a single, integrated device,” he said. “The components are molecularly attached to each other: the carbon nanotube print is embedded in the paper, and the electrolyte is soaked into the paper. The end result is a device that looks, feels, and weighs the same as paper.”

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