Ask Hackaday: Graphene Capacitors On Kickstarter

Last week, we heard of an interesting Kickstarter that puts a capacitor and charging circuit in the same space as a AA battery. This is usually a very simple endeavour, but this capacitor has the same energy density as an alkaline cell. The chemistry inside this capacitor was initially attributed to lithium ion, and a few people in the comments section were wondering how this was possible. The math just didn’t seem to add up.

The guy behind this Kickstarter, [Shawn West], recently spilled the beans on these… interesting capacitors. Apparently, they’re not lithium ion capacitors at all, but graphene capacitors. Graphene capacitors you can buy. On Kickstarter. Graphene capacitors, also known as the thing that will change everything from smartphones to electric vehicles, and everything in between. I will admit I am skeptical of this Kickstarter.

Apparently, these graphene supercaps are in part designed and manufactured by [Shawn] himself. He fabricates the graphene by putting graphite powder in a ball mill for a day, adding a bit of water and surfactant, then running the ball mill for another few days. The graphene then floats to the top where it is skimmed off and applied to a nonconductive film.

There’s absolutely nothing that flies in the face of the laws of physics when it comes to graphene capacitors – we’ve seen a few researchers at UCLA figure out how to make a graphene supercap. The general consensus when it comes to graphene supercaps is something along the lines of, ‘yeah, it’ll be awesome, in 10 years or so.’ I don’t think anyone thought the first graphene capacitors would be available through Kickstarter, though.

I’m a little torn on this one. On one hand, graphene supercaps, now. On the other hand, graphene supercaps on Kickstarter. I’m not calling this a scam, but if [Shawn]’s caps are legit, you would think huge companies and governments would be breaking down his door to sign licensing agreements.

Post your thoughts below.

Synthesizing graphene in your basement laboratory

graphene-in-the-home-lab

We’re surprised that we haven’t come across any of [Robert Murray-Smith’s] projects before. Looking through his collection of YouTube uploads proves that he’s a very active amateur chemist (we assume this is a hobby because he performs the experiment in a mayonnaise jar). The video we’re featuring today is about ten minutes of his technique for synthesizing graphene. The video can be watched after the break. Be warned that the audio doesn’t sync with the video because he overdubbed the presentation to fix up the poor audio quality from the original.

Graphene is something of a compound-du-jour when it comes to electronic research. You may remember reading about using DVD burners to make graphene film that will go into thinks like super-capacitors to replace batteries. [Robert] starts off his process with a jar of 98% sulfuric acid and 75% phosphoric acid. He pours in powdered graphite (chemical proportions are important here) and gives it a swirl. Next some potassium permanganate is added over about five or ten minutes. From there it goes on the stir plate for three days of constant stirring. During this time the solution will go from green to brown, indicating the presence of graphene oxide.

He goes on from there, but it’s clear he hasn’t found an iron-clad route to his end goal of isolating the graphene for use in constructing things like those super-capcitors we mentioned earlier. If you’ve got a home lab and some interest perhaps you can contribute to his efforts.

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Making graphene with a DVD burner

A group of researchers have figured out how to produce graphene using a DVD drive. This discovery helps clear the path for mass production of the substance, which was discovered in the late 1980’s. More recently, the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to a team that produced two-dimensional graphene; a substance one just atom thick. One method of doing so used Scotch tape and is mentioned in the video after the break as a technique that works but is not feasible for large-scale production.

The process seen here starts with graphite oxide because it can be suspended in water. This allows a lab technician to evenly distribute the substance on a plastic surface. Note the use of optical discs. The second part of the process involves hitting the dried layer of graphite oxide with a laser. It just so happens that this can be done with a consumer DVD drive. The result is graphene that can be used in circuits and may have potential as a fantastic super-capacitor.

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