Ion dynamics in porous carbon electrodes in supercapacitors using in situ infrared spectroelectrochemistry.
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Electrochemical double layer capacitors (EDLCs), or supercapacitors, rely on electrosorption of ions by porous carbon electrodes and offer a higher power and a longer cyclic lifetime compared to batteries. Ionic liquid (IL) electrolytes can broaden the operating voltage window and increase the energy density of EDLCs. Herein, we present direct measurements of the ion dynamics of 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium bis((trifluoromethyl)sulfonyl)imide in an operating EDLC with electrodes composed of porous nanosized carbide-derived carbons (CDCs) and nonporous onion-like carbons (OLCs) with the use of in situ infrared spectroelectrochemistry. For CDC electrodes, IL ions (both cations and anions) were directly observed entering and exiting CDC nanopores during charging and discharging of the EDLC. Conversely, for OLC electrodes, IL ions were observed in close proximity to the OLC surface without any change in the bulk electrolyte concentration during charging and discharging of the EDLC. This provides experimental evidence that charge is stored on the surface of OLCs in OLC EDLCs without long-range ion transport through the bulk electrode. In addition, for CDC EDLCs with mixed electrolytes of IL and propylene carbonate (PC), the IL ions were observed entering and exiting CDC nanopores, while PC entrance into the nanopores was IL concentration dependent. This work provides direct experimental confirmation of EDLC charging mechanisms that previously were restricted to computational simulations and theories. The experimental measurements presented here also provide deep insights into the molecular level transport of IL ions in EDLC electrodes that will impact the design of the electrode materials' structure for electrical energy storage.