Studies of ion electroadsorption in supercapacitor electrodes
MetadataShow full item record
Electrochemical capacitors, now often termed supercapacitors, are high power electrochemical energy storage devices that complement or replace high power batteries in applications ranging from wind turbines to hybrid engines to uninterruptable power supplies to electronic devices. My dissertation explores the applications of relatively uncommon techniques for both supercapacitor material syntheses and gaining better mechanistic understanding of factors impacting electrochemical performance of supercapacitors. From fundamental ion electroadsorption studies made possible by using small angle neutron scattering (SANS), to the systematic investigations of coating thickness and microstructure in metal oxide / carbon nanocomposite electrodes realized through the novel use of the atomic layer deposition (ALD) technique, new avenues of material characterization and fabrication have been studied. In this dissertation I first present the motivation to expand the knowledge of supercapacitor science and technology, and follow with an in-depth literature review of the state of the art. The literature review covers different types of supercapacitors, the materials used in the construction of commercial and exploratory devices, an exploration of the numerous factors which affect supercapacitor performance, and an overview of relevant materials synthesis and characterization techniques The technical objectives for the work performed in this dissertation are then presented, followed by the contributions that I made in this field in my two primary research thrusts: advances to the understanding of ion electroadsorption theory in both aqueous and organic electrolytes through the development of a SANS-based methodology, and advances to metal-oxide carbon nanocomposites as electrodes through the use of ALD. The understanding of ion electro-adsorption on the surface of microporous (pores < 2 nm) solids is largely hindered by the lack of experimental techniques capable of identifying the sites of ion adsorption and the concentration of ions at the nanoscale. In the first research thrust of my dissertation, I harness the high penetrating power and sensitivity of neutron scattering to isotope substitution to directly observe changes in the ion concentration as a function of the applied potential and the pore size. I have conducted initial studies in selected aqueous and organic electrolytes and outlined the guidelines for conducting such experiments for the broad range of electrode-ions-solvent combinations. I unambiguously demonstrate that depending on the solvent properties and the solvent-pore wall interactions, either enhanced or reduced ion electro-adsorption may take place in sub-nanometer pores. More importantly, for the first time I demonstrate the route to identify the critical pore size below which either enhanced or reduced electrosorption of ions takes place. My studies experimentally demonstrate that poor electrolyte wetting in the smallest pores may indeed limit device performance. The proposed methodology opens new avenues for systematic in-situ studies of complex structure-property relationships governing adsorption of ions under applied potential, critical for rational optimization of device performance. In addition to enhancing our understanding of ion sorption, there is a critical need to develop novel supercapacitor electrode materials with improved high-energy and high-power characteristics. The formation of carbon-transition metal oxide nanocomposites may offer unique benefits for such applications. Broadly available transition metal oxides, such as vanadium oxide, offer high ion storage capabilities due to the broad range of their oxidation states, but suffer from high resistivities. Carbon nanomaterials, such as carbon nanotubes (CNT), in contrast are not capable to store high ion content, but offer high and readily accessible surface area and high electrical conductivity. In the second research thrust of my thesis, by exploiting the ability of atomic layer deposition (ALD) to produce uniform coatings of metal oxides on CNT electrodes, I demonstrated an effective way to produce high power supercapacitor electrodes with ultra-high energy capability. The electrodes I developed showed stable performance with excellent capacitance retention at high current densities and sweep rates. Electrochemical performance of the oxide layers were found to strongly depend on the coating thickness. Decreasing the vanadium oxide coating thickness to ~10 nm resulted in some of the highest values of capacitance reported to date (~1550 F·g⁻¹VOx at 1 A·g⁻¹ current density). Similar methodology was utilized for the deposition of thin vanadium oxide coatings on other substrates, such as aluminum (Al) nanowires. In this case the VOₓ coated Al nanowire electrodes with 30-50% of the pore volume available for electrolyte access show volumetric capacitance of 1390-1950 F cc⁻¹, which exceeds the volumetric capacitance of porous carbons and many carbon-metal oxide composites by more than an order of magnitude. These results indicated the importance of electrode uniformity and precise control over conformity and thickness for the optimization of supercapacitor electrodes.