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An international collaboration of researchers from Penn State and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China has resulted in a novel material for supercapacitors' electrodes.

“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 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 doping with other materials 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.”

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