High-tech electronics made from autumn leaves

Northern China's roadsides are peppered with deciduous phoenix trees, producing an abundance of fallen leaves in autumn. These leaves are generally burned in the colder season, exacerbating the country's air pollution problem. Investigators in Shandong, China, recently discovered a new method to convert this organic waste matter into a porous carbon material that can be used to produce high-tech electronics. The advance is reported in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, by AIP Publishing.

The investigators used a multistep, yet simple, process to convert tree leaves into a form that could be incorporated into electrodes as active materials. The dried leaves were first ground into a powder, then heated to 220 degrees Celsius for 12 hours. This produced a powder composed of tiny carbon microspheres. These microspheres were then treated with a solution of potassium hydroxide and heated by increasing the temperature in a series of jumps from 450 to 800 C.

The chemical treatment corrodes the surface of the carbon microspheres, making them extremely porous. The final product, a black carbon powder, has a very high surface area due to the presence of many tiny pores that have been chemically etched on the surface of the microspheres. The high surface area gives the final product its extraordinary electrical properties.

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