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Tiny Wires Could Provide a Big Energy Boost

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Seyed Mirvakili

Seyed Mirvakili, lead author of the paper describing the niobium supercapacitors, examines a strand of the material in the lab.

Credit: Craig Cheney

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have found a new approach to deliver the short but intense bursts of power needed by wearable electronic devices for health and fitness monitoring. The approach uses yarns, made from nanowires of niobium, as the electrodes in tiny supercapacitors. The desirable characteristics of supercapacitors, such as high power density, are not unique to carbon-based nanoparticles, and the researchers showed niobium nanowire yarn is a potential alternative to carbon nanotubes and graphene.

The new nanowire-based supercapacitor exceeds the performance of existing batteries, while occupying a very small volume, the researchers say. "We are in a sweet spot" with a technology that can deliver big bursts of power from a very small device, says MIT professor Ian W. Hunter. The work is described in "High-Performance Supercapacitors from Niobium Nanowire Yarns," published in the ACS journal Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Niobium is a relatively abundant and widely used material, so the system should be inexpensive and easy to produce. Overall, niobium-based supercapacitors can store up to five times as much power in a given volume as carbon nanotube versions, the researchers say. In addition, the material is highly flexible and could easily be woven into fabrics to make wearable devices.

From MIT News
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