Researchers one step closer to tech that can charge smartphones and laptops in seconds

Scientists are now one step closer to reach the ability to charge mobile phones and laptop in a few seconds. The researchers at the University of Waterloo used nanotechnology to significantly improve energy-storage devices known as supercapacitors, which can store electrical energy.

The improved design roughly doubles the amount of electrical energy the rapid-charging devices can hold. This can be used not just for mobile phones and laptop but also in electric vehicles and high-powered lasers.

“We’re showing record numbers for the energy-storage capacity of supercapacitors,” said Michael Pope, a professor of chemical engineering who led the Waterloo research. “And the more energy-dense we can make them, the more batteries we can start displacing.”

Supercapacitors are considered promising, green alternative to the traditional batteries used in personal devices these days. The benefits of supercapacitors include improved safety and reliability, in addition to much faster charging. However, the applications of the supercapacitors have been limited by the low storage capacity.

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Existing commercial supercapacitors only store enough energy, for example, to power cellphones and laptops for about 10 percent as long as rechargeable batteries.

The researchers working on the project used an oily liquid salt which works as a spacer to separate the thin graphene sheets, preventing them from stacking like pieces of paper which eventually increases their exposed surface area – a key to maximising energy-storage capacity.

The salt also serves as the electrolyte needed to actually store electrical charge, minimising the size and weight of the supercapacitor.

“That is the really cool part of this,” Pope said. “It’s a clever, elegant design.”

Increasing the storage capacity of supercapacitors means they can be made small and light enough to replace batteries for more applications, particularly those requiring quick-charge and quick-discharge capabilities.

Though supercapacitors are unlikely to ever attain the full storage capacity of batteries, they have the potential to conveniently and reliably power consumer electronic devices, electric vehicles and systems in remote locations like space.

“If they’re marketed in the correct ways for the right applications, we’ll start seeing more and more of them in our everyday lives,” Pope said.