Paper battery and supercapicitor

Serendipity and the Paper Battery

If it’s true that chance favors the prepared mind, then Rensselaer students are indeed prepared to change the world. It was a student’s insightful comment that led to the creation of an energy storage device on a paper-thin piece of material made from cellulose and carbon nanotubes.

Robert Linhardt, the Broadbent Senior Constellation Professor of Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, was trying to perfect a blood-thinner containing membrane for hemodialysis. He approached Pulickel Ajayan at the Nanotechnology Center to see if carbon nanotubes might increase the strength of his membranes. The first approach was to merge Linhardt’s cellulose with aligned carbon nanotubes and test for strength. “One of the students said, you know if you fold that in half, you have a supercapacitor,” said Linhardt. “And so we did. And he was right.”

The paper batteries can be rolled, twisted, folded, or cut into any number of shapes with no loss of mechanical integrity or efficiency. They function as both high-energy batteries and high-power supercapacitors, which are usually separate components of electrical systems.

And thus, a serendipitous advance sprung out of three labs, a result of junior members sharing ideas.“It’s the product of smart students seeing something that was not apparent to any one group, and seizing that opportunity,” said Linhardt.

As for the student’s advisers? “Sometimes standing back and letting someone succeed is the most important decision to make,” said Linhardt.

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