Understanding the electrochemistry of “water-in-salt” electrolytes: basal plane highly ordered pyrolytic graphite as a model system†
A new approach to expand the accessible voltage window of electrochemical energy storage systems, based on so-called “water-in-salt” electrolytes, has been expounded recently. Although studies of transport in concentrated electrolytes date back over several decades, the recent demonstration that concentrated aqueous electrolyte systems can be used in the lithium ion battery context has rekindled interest in the electrochemical properties of highly concentrated aqueous electrolytes. The original aqueous lithium ion battery conception was based on the use of concentrated solutions of lithium bis(trifluoromethanesulfonyl)imide, although these electrolytes still possess some drawbacks including cost, toxicity, and safety. In this work we describe the electrochemical behavior of a simple 1 : 1 electrolyte based on highly concentrated aqueous solutions of potassium fluoride (KF). Highly ordered pyrolytic graphite (HOPG) is used as well-defined model carbon to study the electrochemical properties of the electrolyte, as well as its basal plane capacitance, from a microscopic perspective: the KF electrolyte exhibits an unusually wide potential window (up to 2.6 V). The faradaic response on HOPG is also reported using K3Fe(CN)6 as a model redox probe: the highly concentrated electrolyte provides good electrochemical reversibility and protects the HOPG surface from adsorption of contaminants. Moreover, this electrolyte was applied to symmetrical supercapacitors (using graphene and activated carbon as active materials) in order to quantify its performance in energy storage applications. It is found that the activated carbon and graphene supercapacitors demonstrate high gravimetric capacitance (221 F g−1 for activated carbon, and 56 F g−1 for graphene), a stable working voltage window of 2.0 V, which is significantly higher than the usual range of water-based capacitors, and excellent stability over 10 000 cycles. These results provide fundamental insight into the wider applicability of highly concentrated electrolytes, which should enable their application in future of energy storage technologies.