New Form of Paper Could Revolutionize How We Store Energy

December 7, 2015 | Joanne Kennell

Paper origami swans
Photo credit: Kathryn Connell/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It is so durable it can be folded into an origami swan.

This is not your typical piece of paper.  Researchers at Linköping University's Laboratory of Organic Electronics, Sweden, have developed a form of paper, power paper, that is capable of storing large amounts of information.  The project was financed by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation since 2012.

According to researchers, one sheet of power paper, measuring 15 centimeters by a few tenths of a millimeter, can store as much as one Farad (F) — the basic unit of electrical capacitance (ability to store electrical charge), which is comparable to supercapacitors currently on the market.  Unlike a battery, capacitors use static electricity to store energy. For this reason, it stores much less energy, but it’s better than a battery in some applications, like the flash of a camera, because it can release all its charge all at once. You can also find capacitors in electric cars and x-ray machines.

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Inside a capacitor, there are two conducting metal plates with an insulating material, called a dielectric, between them.  A supercapacitor on the other hand, differs from a regular capacitor in two ways: its plates have a much bigger area and the distance between them is much smaller.

“Thin films that function as capacitors have existed for some time. What we have done is to produce the material in three dimensions. We can produce thick sheets,” says Xavier Crispin, professor of organic electronics and co-author.  The paper can also be recharged hundreds of times, which is great for the environment, not to mention each charge would only take a few seconds.  

This piece of power paper can store 1F.
This piece of power paper can store 1F.. Photo credit: Thor Balkhed

Power paper looks and feels like plastic, however, it is made from nanocellulose — cellulose fibers — that when exposed to high-pressure water, breaks down into very thin fibers that are 20 nanometers in diameter.  Keeping the fibers in a solution of water while adding an electrically charged polymer, also in a water solution, results in a thin coating around the fibers.  "The covered fibres are in tangles, where the liquid in the spaces between them functions as an electrolyte," explained Jesper Edberg, doctoral student, who conducted the experiments together with Abdellah Malti, who recently completed his doctorate.

This new paper is developed similarly to regular paper, which has to be dehydrated, leading researchers to their next challenge — how to upscale the production of the product for an industrial setting.

Not only is the paper extremely durable, it is very light, waterproof, and does not require chemicals and heavy metals to produce.  Coupling this with the fact that it is made from renewable cellulose and a readily available polymer, power paper is a very environmentally sustainable product.

Power paper has already set four world records:

  1. Highest charge and capacitance in organic electronics, 1 Coulomb (C) and 2 Farad (F).
  2. HIghest measured current in an organic conductor, 1 Ampere (A).
  3. Highest capacity to simultaneously conduct ions and electrons.
  4. HIghest transconductance in a transistor, 1 Siemens (S).

This new form of paper really could revolutionize the way we store energy, from better batteries for everyday use, to storing energy from wind and solar power generation.  It’s applications keep going, and going, and going.

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