MTU Professor comes up with neat discovery

HOUGHTON — At Michigan Tech, a greenhouse gas is heating up, but not in the way that you’d think. Materials Science Professor Yun Hang Hu and his team figured out a way to turn carbon dioxide into a newly developed three-dimensional graphene.

“We developed an advanced material for use of energy application,” said Hu. “So, for example, we can use the material for a supercapacitor.”

In the lab, a compound of carbon dioxide and sodium is heated to 520 degrees Celsius. This reaction releases heat energy and forms the graphene sheets.

The surface of these sheets is covered with what appear to be dents, which are actually micropores. The dents can fold into larger pores to increase the surface area, allowing electrolyte ions to cling to it. This creates a reservoir for the ions and allows the electric charge to hold, solidifying the supercapacitive properties.

Hu said the graphene sheets are an important contribution to the debate on energy sources.

“Energy is a big issue because we are requiring more and more energies,” said Hu. “We need a new material to improve the energy efficiency and also, we can try to find a new energy source.”

The properties of the graphene produced in Hu’s lab make it usable for regenerative brakes, as seen in hybrid vehicles, elevators or buses.