Oregon State chemists have discovered an inexpensive and rapid process for turning cellulose into the components of supercapacitors. These high-power energy devices have a wide range of industrial applications, from electronics to automobiles.
Cellulose, the primary ingredient in paper, is one of the most abundant organic polymers. By heating it in the presence of ammonia, Xiulei (David) Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry, created an extraordinarily thin carbon membrane. “It’s surprising that such a basic reaction was not reported before,” says Ji. “Not only are there industrial applications, but this opens a whole new scientific area, studying reducing gas agents for carbon activation.”
The high surface area of carbon membranes (three grams can cover a football field) makes them useful in supercapacitors, energy storage devices that can be recharged much faster than a battery. They help power computers and consumer electronics. In industry, they can power anything from a crane to a forklift.