In this doctoral project, a relatively new form of carbon material, with unique narrow pore size distribution around 7 Å and with uniform structure, has been electrochemically characterised using the single particle microelectrode technique. The carbon has been used as electrode material for supercapacitors. This type of capacitors is used as high power energy buffers in hybrid vehicles and for stationary power backup. The principle for the microelectrode technique consists of connecting a carbon particle with a carbon fibre by means of a micromanipulator. The single particle and carbon fibre together form a microelectrode. Combination of this technique with electroanalytical methods such as cyclic voltammetry and potential step measurements allows for the survey of electrochemical phenomena and for the determination of ion transport parameters inside the nanopores.
A mathematical model based on Fick’s second law, for diffusion of ions inside the nanopores at non steady state, was used for the determination of effective diffusion coefficients (Deff). The coefficients were calculated from an asymptotic solution of Fick’s equation, applied for a thin layer adjacent to the external surface of the carbon particles and valid for the current response in a short time region. Another asymptotic solution was obtained, using spherical geometry and valid for the current response in a long time region.
In this doctoral work, the carbon particles have been exposed to potential cycling, which mimics that of large electrodes during operation of a double layer capacitor. The potential-current response, E-I, for the nanoporous carbon, shows a pure capacitive behaviour between –0.5 V and 0.1 V vs. the Hg|HgO reference electrode. The detection of the faradaic processes beyond these potentials was possible by lowering of the voltammometric sweep rate. The electrochemical processes occurring at positive and at negative potential were investigated separately.
Cyclic voltammometric measurements showed that the chemisorption of hydroxyl groups, occurring between 0.1 and 0.3 V, leads to a mild oxidation of the carbon structure, resulting in surface groups containing an oxygen atom at a specific carbon site (e.g., phenolic or quinine type). These oxygen-containing surface groups caused an increase of the specific capacitance, which remained constant throughout a number of voltammometric cycles. The Deff decreased on the other hand with the number of cycles. The Deff decreases also with the positive potential. The evaluation of Deff indicates adsorption of hydroxyl groups and an increase of the effective tortuosity of the pore system.
The oxidation of the carbon particles, between 0 and 0.5 V, leads to more extensive oxidation and to surface groups containing two oxygen atoms at a single carbon site, followed by formation of carbonate ions. The oxygen-containing surface groups and carbonate ions formed at these potentials do not contribute to the specific capacitance and drastically retard or obstruct the ion transport inside the nanopores.
At negative potentials the carbon particles show a dominantly capacitive behaviour. The faradaic processes taking place below –0.5 V vs. Hg|HgO reference electrode are generation and adsorption of hydrogen. These processes do not perturb significantly the electrochemical and ion transport properties of the nanoporous carbon particles. It was found that hydrogen generation occurs at –0.5 V vs. Hg|HgO and that two hydrogen oxidation processes take place at positive potentials. The results indicate that the weakly adsorbed hydrogen undergoes oxidation between 0 and 0.1 V and that the strongly adsorbed hydrogen is oxidised at more positive potentials.
The single particle technique was adapted for the determination of diffusion coefficients of an organic electrolyte. The different size of the anions and cations caused different transport characteristics at negative and positive potentials. Slow cycling was found important for ion penetration inside the nanopores and for the evaluation of the effective diffusion coefficients.
The effective diffusion coefficients for the nanoporous carbon using aqueous 6M KOH and 0.1M TEABF4 in acetonitrile were estimated to 1.4 (±0.8).10-9 cm2 s-1 and 1.3 (±0.4) 10-8 cm2 s-1, respectively.
Chemical engineering, Cottrell equation, radial diffusion, chronoamperometry, potential step measurements, microelectrode technique, nanoporous carbon