In situ tracking of the nanoscale expansion of porous carbon electrodes

Electrochemical double layer capacitors (EDLC) are rapidly emerging as a promising energy storage technology offering extremely large power densities. Despite significant experimental progress, nanoscale operation mechanisms of the EDLCs remain poorly understood and it is difficult to separate processes at multiple time and length scales involved in operation including that of double layer charging and ionic mass transport. Here we explore the functionality of EDLC microporous carbon electrodes using a combination of classical electrochemical measurements and scanning probe microscopy based dilatometry, thus separating individual stages in charge/discharge processes based on strain generation. These methods allowed us to observe two distinct modes of EDLC charging, one fast charging of the double layer unassociated with strain, and another much slower mass transport related charging exhibiting significant sample volume changes. These studies open the pathway for the exploration of electrochemical systems with multiple processes involved in the charge and discharge, and investigation of the kinetics of those processes.