Multifunctional nanocomposite structural separators for energy storage†
Separators in energy storage devices such as batteries and supercapacitors are critical elements between the much-researched anodes and cathodes. Here we present a new “structural separator” comprised of electrically-insulating aligned alumina nanotubes, which realizes a structural, or mechanically robust, function in addition to allowing charge transfer. The polymer nanocomposite structural separator is demonstrated in a supercapacitor cell and also as an interface reinforcement in an aerospace-grade structural carbon fiber composite. Relative to a polymeric commercial separator, the structural separator shows advantages both electrically and structurally: ionic conductivity in the supercapacitor cell is doubled due to the nanotubes disrupting the semi-crystallinity in the polymer electrolyte, and the structural separator creates an interface that is 50% stronger in the advanced composite. In addition to providing direct benefits to existing energy storage devices, the structural separator is best suited to multifunctional structural energy storage applications.