From Pennsylvania State University: “Inexpensive tin packs a big punch for the future of supercapacitors”

Penn State Bloc

From Pennsylvania State University

March 15, 2021
Ashley J. WennersHerron

Researchers doped cobalt oxide with tin to create a more efficient electrode for use in supercapacitors. This microscopic image shows the new material on graphene film. Credit: JIa Zhu/Penn State.

A sustainable powerful micro-supercapacitor may be on the horizon, thanks to an international collaboration of researchers from Penn State and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. Until now, the high-capacity, fast-charging energy storage devices have been limited by the composition of their electrodes — the connections responsible for managing the flow of electrons during charging and dispensing energy. Now, researchers have developed a better material to improve connectivity while maintaining recyclability and low cost.

They published their results on Feb. 8 in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

“The supercapacitor is a very powerful, energy-dense device with a fast-charging rate, in contrast to the typical battery — but can we make it more powerful, faster and with a really high retention cycle?” asked Jia Zhu, corresponding author and doctoral student conducting research in the laboratory of Huanyu “Larry” Cheng, Dorothy Quiggle Career Development Professor in Penn State’s Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics.

Zhu worked under Cheng’s mentorship to explore the connections in a micro-supercapacitor, which they use in their research on small, wearable sensors to monitor vital signs and more. Cobalt oxide, an abundant, inexpensive material that has a theoretically high capacity to quickly transfer energy charges, typically makes up the electrodes. However, the materials that mix with cobalt oxide to make an electrode can react poorly, resulting in a much lower energy capacity than theoretically possible.

The researchers ran simulations of materials from an atomic library to see if adding another material — also called doping — could amplify the desired characteristics of cobalt oxide as an electrode by providing extra electrons while minimizing, or entirely removing, the negative effects. They modeled various material species and levels to see how they would interact with cobalt oxide.

“We screened possible materials but found many that might work were too expensive or toxic, so we selected tin,” Zhu said. “Tin is widely available at a low cost, and it’s not harmful to the environment.”

In the simulations, the researchers found that by partially substituting some of the cobalt for tin and binding the material to a commercially available graphene film — a single-atom thick material that supports electronic materials without changing their properties — they could fabricate what they called a low-cost, easy-to-develop electrode.

Once the simulations were completed, the team in China conducted experiments to see if the simulation could be actualized.

“The experimental results verified a significantly increased conductivity of the cobalt oxide structure after partial substitution by tin,” Zhu said. “The developed device is expected to have promising practical applications as the next-generation energy storage device.”

Next, Zhu and Cheng plan to use their own version of graphene film — a porous foam created by partially cutting and then breaking the material with lasers — to fabricate a flexible capacitor to allow for easy and fast conductivity.

“The supercapacitor is one key component, but we’re also interested in combining with other mechanisms to serve as both an energy harvester and a sensor,” Cheng said. “Our goal is to put a lot of functions into a simple, self-powered device.”

Co-authors on this paper include Yunjian Chen, Ni Wang, Xianzhong Tang and Wencheng Hu, all affiliated with the School of Materials and Energy, University of electronic Science and technology of China[电子科技大学 ()](CN); and Sridhar Komarneni, Materials Research Institute (MRI) and Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Penn State. Wang is also affiliated with MRI.

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Penn State Campus

The Pennsylvania State University is a public state-related land-grant research university with campuses and facilities throughout Pennsylvania. Founded in 1855 as the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania, Penn State became the state’s only land-grant university in 1863. Today, Penn State is a major research university which conducts teaching, research, and public service. Its instructional mission includes undergraduate, graduate, professional and continuing education offered through resident instruction and online delivery. In addition to its land-grant designation, it also participates in the sea-grant, space-grant, and sun-grant research consortia; it is one of only four such universities (along with Cornell University(US), Oregon State University(US), and University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa(US)). Its University Park campus, which is the largest and serves as the administrative hub, lies within the Borough of State College and College Township. It has two law schools: Penn State Law, on the school’s University Park campus, and Dickinson Law, in Carlisle. The College of Medicine is in Hershey. Penn State is one university that is geographically distributed throughout Pennsylvania. There are 19 commonwealth campuses and 5 special mission campuses located across the state. The University Park campus has been labeled one of the “Public Ivies,” a publicly funded university considered as providing a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League.

Annual enrollment at the University Park campus totals more than 46,800 graduate and undergraduate students, making it one of the largest universities in the United States. It has the world’s largest dues-paying alumni association. The university offers more than 160 majors among all its campuses.

Annually, the university hosts the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON), which is the world’s largest student-run philanthropy. This event is held at the Bryce Jordan Center on the University Park campus. The university’s athletics teams compete in Division I of the NCAA and are collectively known as the Penn State Nittany Lions, competing in the Big Ten Conference for most sports. Penn State students, alumni, faculty and coaches have received a total of 54 Olympic medals.

Early years

The school was sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society and founded as a degree-granting institution on February 22, 1855, by Pennsylvania’s state legislature as the Farmers’ High School of Pennsylvania. The use of “college” or “university” was avoided because of local prejudice against such institutions as being impractical in their courses of study. Centre County, Pennsylvania, became the home of the new school when James Irvin of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, donated 200 acres (0.8 km2) of land – the first of 10,101 acres (41 km^2) the school would eventually acquire. In 1862, the school’s name was changed to the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania, and with the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, Pennsylvania selected the school in 1863 to be the state’s sole land-grant college. The school’s name changed to the Pennsylvania State College in 1874; enrollment fell to 64 undergraduates the following year as the school tried to balance purely agricultural studies with a more classic education.

George W. Atherton became president of the school in 1882, and broadened the curriculum. Shortly after he introduced engineering studies, Penn State became one of the ten largest engineering schools in the nation. Atherton also expanded the liberal arts and agriculture programs, for which the school began receiving regular appropriations from the state in 1887. A major road in State College has been named in Atherton’s honor. Additionally, Penn State’s Atherton Hall, a well-furnished and centrally located residence hall, is named not after George Atherton himself, but after his wife, Frances Washburn Atherton. His grave is in front of Schwab Auditorium near Old Main, marked by an engraved marble block in front of his statue.

Early 20th century

In the years that followed, Penn State grew significantly, becoming the state’s largest grantor of baccalaureate degrees and reaching an enrollment of 5,000 in 1936. Around that time, a system of commonwealth campuses was started by President Ralph Dorn Hetzel to provide an alternative for Depression-era students who were economically unable to leave home to attend college.

In 1953, President Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of then-U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, sought and won permission to elevate the school to university status as The Pennsylvania State University. Under his successor Eric A. Walker (1956–1970), the university acquired hundreds of acres of surrounding land, and enrollment nearly tripled. In addition, in 1967, the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, a college of medicine and hospital, was established in Hershey with a $50 million gift from the Hershey Trust Company.

Modern era

In the 1970s, the university became a state-related institution. As such, it now belongs to the Commonwealth System of Higher Education. In 1975, the lyrics in Penn State’s alma mater song were revised to be gender-neutral in honor of International Women’s Year; the revised lyrics were taken from the posthumously-published autobiography of the writer of the original lyrics, Fred Lewis Pattee, and Professor Patricia Farrell acted as a spokesperson for those who wanted the change.

In 1989, the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport joined ranks with the university, and in 2000, so did the Dickinson School of Law. The university is now the largest in Pennsylvania. To offset the lack of funding due to the limited growth in state appropriations to Penn State, the university has concentrated its efforts on philanthropy.