Low-temperature supercapacitors could power missions to moon and Mars

Yat Li
Yat Li

Exploration of extremely cold environments, from Earth’s polar regions to the moon and Mars, requires technology that can rapidly store and deliver electricity at ultralow temperatures. NASA’s Perseverance rover, for example, needs heaters to keep the rover’s battery system from freezing in Martian temperatures averaging about -81 F (-62 C).

A new study led by researchers at UC Santa Cruz and UC Merced reports the development of 3D-printed porous carbon aerogels for electrodes in ultralow-temperature supercapacitors, which could reduce heating needs for future space and polar missions.

Published March10 in Nano Letters, the study builds on previous supercapacitor research by corresponding author Yat Li and his collaborators.

“Low-temperature energy storage devices could be useful for NASA missions and other applications,” said Li, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz. “The heating components incorporated in energy storage devices to enable low-temperature operations add extra weight and need constant electric power, so we wanted to see if we could improve low-temperature device performance through structural engineering of electrodes.”

The researchers 3D printed a porous carbon aerogel using cellulose nanocrystal-based ink, then freeze-dried it and further treated the surface. The resulting material had multiple levels of pores, from 500-micron pores in the lattice-like structure to nanometer-sized pores within the bars of the lattice. This multi-scale porous network preserved adequate ion diffusion and charge transfer through an electrode at -94 F (-70 C), achieving higher energy storage capacitance than previously reported for low-temperature supercapacitors.

This collaborative work between UCSC and UC Merced was funded by NASA through the Merced nAnomaterials Center for Energy and Sensing (MACES) center and by the U.S. Department of Energy. The team will collaborate with NASA scientists to further characterize the device’s low-temperature performance.

In addition to Li, the authors of the paper include first author Bin Yao and others at UCSC, corresponding author Jennifer Lu at UC Merced, and researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University in China and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.