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Changing Trees into Energy Storage Devices: How to Store Green Energy with Cellulose

First Posted: Oct 07, 2015 07:48 AM EDT

Scientists may be turning trees into energy storage devices. They're using cellulose in order to build more efficient and longer-lasting energy storage devices, or supercapacitors, which may pave the way to lightweight, flexible, and high-power electronics, such as wearable devices, portable power supplies and hybrid and electric vehicles.

"Ultimately the goal of this research is to find ways to power current and future technology with efficiency and in a sustainable way," said Emily Cranston, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This means anticipating future technology needs and relying on materials that are more environmentally friendly and not based on depleting resources."

In this latest study, the researchers created an improved three-dimensional energy storage device constructed by trapping functional nanoparticles within the walls of nanocellulose foam. The foam itself is made in a simplified and fast one-step process; the type of nanocellulose used is called cellulose nanocrystals and looks like uncooked long-grain rice. These "rice grains" are glued together at random points to form mesh-like structures with lots of open space.

Lightweight and high-power density capacitors are of particular interest for the development of hybrid and electric vehicles. The fast-charging devices allow for significant energy saving, because they can accumulate energy during braking and release it during acceleration.

"I believe the best results can be obtained when researchers combine their expertise," said Igor Zhitomirsky, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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