New Hot Paper in Materials Science Looks at a New Method for Energy Storage

In our recent blog post, the paper “Scalable synthesis of hierarchically structured carbon nanotube-graphene fibres for capacitive energy storage” (Nature Nanotechnology 9[7]: 555-62, July 2014), was named a New Hot Paper in Essential Science Indicators℠ for the period ending June 30, 2016. Currently, this paper has 239 citations in the Web of Science™.

Below, Dr. Yuan Chen, the corresponding author on this paper, discusses the work and its implications for the field of Materials Science.


Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

Our paper has attracted the interest of researchers working in several hot research areas: applications of graphene-based materials, energy storage for wearable devices, and assembly of nanomaterials.

Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

It describes a new method of using a flexible capillary column commonly used in chromatography as a reactor to produce carbon microfibers.  The novel fiber-like supercapacitors fabricated using these microfibers exhibit excellent energy storage performances.

Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman’s terms?

This paper is significant in the following aspects: (1) a new method of assembling hybrid carbon microfibers, (2) novel hybrid carbon microfibers with hierarchical structures as high-performance electrodes for micro-supercapacitors, and (3) demonstration of micro-supercapacitors as a potential energy storage solution for various optoelectronics and other miniaturized devices.

How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you’ve encountered along the way?

Hydrothermal processes are widely used to synthesize materials using pressure vessels called autoclaves. Researchers have used autoclaves to assemble carbon nanomaterials into various porous composites. However, the density of such composites is too low to create high volumetric-energy storage devices. Fused silica capillary columns are generally used for chromatographic separation. I came up with the idea of using a fused silica capillary column as a reactor to assemble carbon nanomaterials into microfibers. A challenge was to synthesize many microfibers with consistent properties. In this paper, multiple long columns were integrated with a valve switching system for continuous fiber production. More recently, we developed a simpler method using space confinement fillers (Energy Environ. Sci., 9: 611-22, 2016).

Where do you see your research leading in the future?

In the last 30 years, many exciting physicochemical properties of carbon nanomaterials have been discovered. However, not many studies have been able to successfully translate the exceptional nanoscale properties of carbon nanomaterials into practical macroscale applications. A key challenge is that carbon nanomaterials often lose their desired properties observed at the nanoscale when used as the building block of macroscale systems. My future research will focus on how to assemble carbon nanomaterials into functional macroscopic architectures with desired nanoscale properties.

Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

Historically, materials we used largely define our quality of life. Carbon nanomaterials have been discovered to possess many fascinating properties that differ significantly from other materials. My research has the potential to translate the superior properties of carbon nanomaterials into some impactful applications, which can help to create a sustainable future.

Dr. Yuan Chen


School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

The University of Sydney, Australia