Death to the Power Cord


Power cords are everywhere. Plug in the phone, the laptop, the blender, the lights and the television. Detangle the television cord from the gaming system and the gaming system from the speakers and laptop. The cords are everywhere, snaking about, tangling with each other and sometimes causing hazardous situations. Watch the baby to make sure the cords are not tripped over or pulled out of the wall. Watch the dog to make certain he does not chew on them. Watch the furniture rearrangement to ensure the entertainment system does not create a hazard. Many people would like to see the power cord die a slow and horrible death. A team of researchers from the Vanderbilt Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory has conquered the first step in achieving a cord-less society.

The research team of assistant professor Cary Pint and graduate student Andrew Westover collaborated with others to create a supercapacitor in the form of a small, grey square. This little wafer demonstrates the possibility of materials to not only store but also discharge significant levels of electrical energy even while being subjected to such things as vibrations and impacts. In the past, these types of devices were unable to maintain the ability of storing and discharging electricity when subjected to these dynamic forces and static loads. The ability to create any structural energy storage materials to handle these forces and continue to store and discharge electricity has been a stumbling block for researchers in the past.

Now, however, it appears that being able to integrate energy in a structural capacity may spell future death to the ubiquitous power cord. An entirely new world of technology can be created with this advance. The possibilities of being able to make a laptop which, instead of  using batteries and cord, the casing becomes the battery.  An electric automobile which could be powered from the energy saved and stored in the chassis could become future reality. The ability to go from an external energy source to one that is integrated would revolutionize everything from cell phones to home appliances.

The newly designed structural supercapacitor is not compromised by the mechanical robustness. During both the stress of vibrations and also while being subjected to pressure of up to 44 pounds per square inch (psi), it continues to store and release electrical charges flawlessly. The team’s device is able to operate at a higher voltage and is able to store even more energy than a commercial supercapacitor. The electricity is stored on the surface of the material and does not use the same method of energy storage as batteries, which utilize a chemical reaction. Because of this, the item can not only be charged in minutes as opposed to hours, but it can be operated for millions, instead of thousands, of cycles.

While supercapacitors need to be both heavier and larger to contain equivalent amounts of energy storage as lithium-ion batteries, the difference should become unimportant because the energy storage will be part of an item’s overall structure. When considering building an energy storage device into the case of a laptop, the chassis of a car, or the drywall or siding on a house, the size and weight of the storage system becomes much less relevant. One of the largest hurdles which needed to be overcome was the issue of delamination. The researchers, however, have managed to combine materials and create a layered bond which adheres more tightly than Super Glue. While these structural supercapacitors might best be suited for things such as solar cells and consumer electronics, the team believes that their design will carry over to other things, such as carbon nanotubes. Additionally, a structural energy output might very well spell death to the myriad of tangled cords being used as a power source for every electronic device used in both home and daily life.

By Dee Mueller

Vanderbilt University
Science Daily

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