MIT and Bristol University scientists have designed a new class of laxative detergents that help boost the performance of supercapacitors.
According to the scientists, these detergents – also known as ionic liquids – function better than aqueous and organic electrolytes currently used in supercapacitors.
Although ionic liquids are salts, at room temperature they are surprisingly not crystalline solids but in fact liquids.
This gives ionic liquids numerous advantages over conventional electrolytes because they are stable, non-flammable, and often much more environmentally friendly.
The authors of this study designed highly efficient detergent-like ionic liquid electrolytes and then explained how they work at electrode surfaces.
According to the scientists, understanding how they operate will help design even more efficient devices for storing electrical energy.
“We engineered a new class of ionic liquids that can store energy more efficiently, explains co-author and MIT researcher Xianwen Mao.
“These detergent-like ionic liquids can self-assemble into sandwich-like bilayer structures on electrode surfaces. And that is the very reason why they give better energy storage performance.”
Typically, for electrolytes in contact with a charged electrode, the distribution of ions is dominated by electrostatic Coulombic interactions.
However, this distribution can be controlled by making the ionic liquids soap-like, or amphiphilic, so that the molecules now have separate polar and non-polar domains, exactly like common detergents.
According to the scientists, these soap-like electrolytes then spontaneously form bilayer structures on the electrode surfaces, leading to much improved energy storage capabilities.
They opine that the new class of electrolytes could prove suitable for challenging operations such as oil drilling and space exploration.
It could also pave way for new and improved supercapacitors in hybrid cars.
Content and image: University of Bristol/Xianwen Mao-MIT