April 10, 2017
Score one for Mother Nature: The American fern has inspired a new electrode prototype that brings us one step closer to self-powering devices.
Created by researchers at Australia's RMIT University, the electrode is designed to work with supercapacitors, which charge and discharge power much faster than conventional batteries.
The design, according to RMIT professor Min Gu, draws on nature's "genius solution" for efficiently filling space-through self-repeating patterns known as "fractals" (*cue the Frozen singalong*).
"The leaves of the western swordfern [Polystichum munitum, native to western North America] are densely crammed with veins, making them extremely efficient for storing energy and transporting water around the planet," Gu, leader of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics at RMIT, said in a statement.
"Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes—which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes—and we've used this naturally efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level," he added.
An "ideal alternative for solar power storage," the prototype can be paired with supercapacitors to increase storage 30-fold. The fractal-enabled laser-reduced graphene electrodes hold the stored charge for longer, promising lasting reliability and quick-burst energy release "for when someone wants to use solar energy cloudy day," Gu suggested.
But PhD researcher Litty Thekkekara believes the prototype—based on flexible thin film technology—is destined for even greater things.
"Flexible thin film solar could be used almost anywhere you can imagine, from building windows to car panels, smartphones to smartwatches," she said, tipping a future free of mobile batteries and charging stations.
"With this flexible electrode prototype we've solved the storage part of the challenge, as well as shown how they can work with solar cells without affecting performance," Thekkekara continued. "Now the focus needs to be on flexible solar energy, so we can work towards achieving our vision of fully solar-reliant, self-powering electronics."
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