Students at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey have created a supercapacitor — used for storing energy — that replaces activated carbon with biochar electrodes. The new substance is half as expensive, it’s made from a by-product of biofuel, and it’s much easier to produce than activated carbon. This breakthrough could bring the cost of supercapacitors down drastically while making it easier to store renewable energy for when it is needed.

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Every year on earth we use up about 15 terrawatts of energy, and the sun beats down 50 terrawatts of harvestable solar energy annually. The team of students who created this new supercapacitor — Rachel Kenion, Liana Vaccari, and Katie Van Strander — decided that we weren’t using nearly enough of that solar energy and decided to help the cause. Storage of renewable energy is an obstacle standing in front of our road to a clean energy society — the sun doesn’t shine all the time and the wind doesn’t always blow, so you need to store energy for times when production is low. Unfortunately, traditional energy storage units are expensive.

By creating electrodes out of a bi-product from the process of making biodiesel the team of student researchers believes they’ve come up with one solution to bring those high costs down. They’ve also found a way to reuse a by-product that would otherwise be thrown out. “Our goal is eventually to manufacture these electrodes and sell them to a company that already makes supercapacitors. Once supercapacitors become cheaper, they will become more common and be integrated into more and more devices,” Katie Van Strander said.

Via Science Daily