The graphene battery electrode developed by Dr. Jodie Lutkenhaus, professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, and her team can be used to make lighter electric vehicles and aircraft by storing energy within the structural body panels. This approach presents its own set of technical challenges, as it requires the development of batteries and supercapacitors with the same sort of mechanical properties as the structural body panels. Specifically, batteries and supercapacitor electrodes are often formed with brittle materials and are not mechanically strong.
The research team was able to create very strong and stiff electrodes based on dopamine in graphene and Kevlar nanofibres. Dopamine, which is also a neurotransmitter, is a highly adhesive molecule that mimics the proteins that allow mussels to stick to virtually any surface. Polydopamine (PDA) has been used in Lithium ion batteries and supercapacitors as an electrode material, separator modifier, and binder, and the use of dopamine and calcium ions leads to a significant improvement in mechanical performance.
The supercapacitor electrodes have the highest, to date, multifunctional efficiency (a metric that evaluates a multifunctional material based on both mechanical and electrochemical performance) for graphene-based electrodes.
This research leads to an entirely new family of structural electrodes, which opens the door to the development of lighter electric vehicles and aircraft. While this work is mostly focused on supercapacitors, Lutkenhaus hopes to translate the research into creating sturdy, stiff batteries.