Renew. Energy Environ. Sustain.
Volume 2, 2017
Sustainable energy systems for the future
Article Number 9
Number of page(s) 5
Published online 24 August 2017

© S. Albohani et al., published by EDP Sciences, 2017

Licence Creative Commons
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1 Introduction

The demand for advanced electrochemical energy storage devices with increased power and energy densities is increasing due to sustainable energy and environmental issues. Electrical energy storage and conversion systems such as fuel cells, batteries and supercapacitors will play a significant role in the effective utilisation of clean energy sources (e.g. wind and solar) with intermittent energy output. Supercapacitors have attracted extensive attention for this role due to their ability to convert chemical energy to electrical energy with high efficiency and excellent cyclic stability [1,2]. In addition, supercapacitors have unique properties such as ultrafast charge–discharge behaviour, high power densities and very long-term stability compared to lithium–ion batteries [35]. Supercapacitors are typically classified into two main types depending on the charge storage mechanism utilised; electric double layer capacitors (EDLCs) and pseudocapacitors. In an EDLC, the electrical energy, in the form of free ions accumulated on the electrode surface, are stored by ion adsorption. In a pseudocapacitor that electrical energy is stored by fast surface redox reactions. With the acknowledgement that improving the performance of electrode materials is perhaps the best option for improving energy storage overall, a third type of ‘hybrid’ supercapacitor is emerging that stores the charge by both redox reaction and electrostatic phenomena occurring at the electrode/electrolyte interface. These 3rd wave electrodes promise high cell voltage, high specific capacitance, unmitigated cyclic stability, and improved energy density [68].

In developing these new electrode materials researchers have found that enhancing surface area, electrical conductivity, providing short ion-diffusion pathways and having excellent interfacial integrity lead to desirable characteristics for applications ranging from use in electric vehicles to portable electronics [912]. Binary transition metal oxides (BTMOs), as opposed to simple transition metal oxides, can provide all of these characteristics and show particular promise for supercapacitor applications, particularly as they contain mixed metal valencies providing rich redox behaviour for exploitation. Two main challenges exist for the successful utilisation of BTMOs in hybrid electrochemical storage devices: producing particles with sufficient surface area to complement the redox capabilities; and producing them from relatively cheap and environmentally benign metals.

The problem of surface area may be tackled by developing synthetic methods that produce intricate nano/meso scale structure or porosity in the BTMO that results in a dramatically increased surface area per particle, keeping in mind that ions still need to be able to access the surface, i.e. there is no point in having surface structure at a scale that is too small for ion migration to the surface [1316]. One way to achieve this is to add a polymer template during the initial synthesis of the material. Using polymeric materials as templates may also result in improvements in the mechanical flexibility of the electrode, more reliable mesoporosity, and the capability to introduce pore shape and volume versatility depending on the polymer template utilised [1719]. Many such templating agents exist with two of the more interesting being eggshell membrane (ESM) and poly methyl methacrylate (PMMA). The former has been suggested as a useful template due to its porous structure, high temperature of decomposition (over 200 °C), low water uptake and swelling properties [20]. In addition use of ESM could be viewed as re-use/valorisation of a product normally considered a waste. The PMMA has a much more regular (and potentially tunable) structure [19].

Nickel cobaltate (NiCo2O4) has attracted considerable attention as a BTMO electrode material due to the relatively low cost of Ni and Co, their environmental friendliness, and natural abundance [21,22]. Furthermore, the material possesses rich redox chemistry, electronic conductivity and electrochemical activity when compared to the corresponding simple metal oxides, NiO and Co3O4 [15,16,23]. Examples of templated NiCo2O4 materials include an α-MnO2@NiCo2O4 core–shell heterostructure [24] and a hollow NiCo2O4 nanoparticle/graphene composite [25] but most NiCo2O4 materials presented in the literature do not use sacrificial templates as a means of increasing surface area, and particularly not polymeric templates.

The aim of this work was to determine if the addition of polymeric templates could increase the electrochemical capacitance of hydrothermally synthesised NiCo2O4.

2 Methodology

All chemicals were purchased from Sigma–Aldrich or Chem Supply. ESM was prepared by immersing natural eggshells in 2 M nitric acid for 15 min then separating the thin membrane layer from shell, washing with deionized water (DI) twice and drying at 90 °C for 2 h.

Non-templated NiCo2O4 was synthesized via a hydrothermal process by dissolving Ni(NO3)2·6H2O and Co(NO3)2·6H2O (2 mmol:4 mmol, respectively) into a mixed solution of ethanol and DI (40 ml each) at room temperature. Urea (24 mmol) was then added to the clear pink solution, the reaction mixture heated in an oven at 90 °C for 8 h and cooled to room temperature. Finally, the solution was annealed at 400 °C for 3 h. Templated NiCo2O4 was synthesised by adding (1 g, 1.5 g, or 2.5 g) of template (ESM or PMMA) to the above solution immediately prior to heating at (90 °C).

NiCo2O4 materials were characterized by SEM (JEOL JCM-6000) equipped with Energy-Dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) to determine surface composition. X-ray diffraction (XRD) data was collected (2θ = 20°–80°) with a GBC Scientific Equipment Enhanced Multi-Material Analyser (EMMA). Specific surface area and pore size distribution were evaluated using Braunauere–Emmett–Teller (BET) nitrogen (N2) adsorption–desorption isotherms and Barrett–Joyner–Halenda (BJH) method, respectively, on a Micromeritics Tristar II surface area and porosity analyser. Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR) was conducted using a Perkin Elmer Frontier FTIR/NIR equipped with a Universal ATR sampling accessory and analysed using Spectrum software, v10.4.2.

Electrochemical properties of the prepared samples were investigated by constructing a working electrode consisting of active materials (75 wt.%), activated carbon (15 wt.%), polyvinylidene fluoride binder (10 wt.%), and N-methyl-2-pyrrolidine (250 μL). Ingredients were mixed to produce a homogenous paste which was coated onto a (1 cm2) graphite sheet. Cyclic voltammetry (CV) experiments were performed in (2 M) NaOH electrolyte, using Pt wire and Hg/HgO as the counter and reference electrodes in a three-electrode cell connected to a Princeton Applied Research versa STAT3. Galvanostatic charge–discharge was conducted using a two electrode cell (working electrode and activated carbon) in the potential range of 0.2–1.6 V at current of 1 mA. Electrochemical behaviour was evaluated using Battery Analyser (MTI Corp, USA) operated by a battery testing system. Specific capacitance was calculated from galvanostatic charge–discharge curves using: where I is the constant discharge current (A), Δt is the discharge time (s), m is mass of the electroactive materials (g) and ΔV is the potential voltage (V). The measured specific capacitances are shown in Table 1) for blank NiCo2O4, NiCo2O4 templated ESM and NiCo2O4 templated PMMA respectively.

Table 1

Summary of surface chemistry and electrochemical data for NiCo2O4 electrode materials. Bold values represent the best performing material.

3 Results and discussion

The prepared materials were identified as predominantly NiCo2O4 in a spinel conformation by comparison of XRD patterns with the standard recorded in the International Centre for Diffraction Data database standard (Fig. 1) and previously reported data [8,23,26]. There appears to be a small amount of contamination from Ni(OH)2 and Co3O4 in the templated materials. The XRD peaks are quite broad indicating a relatively amorphous material.

EDS of all materials (Fig. 2) indicated the presence of Co, Ni and O on the surface with a 1:2 Ni to Co atomic ratio, consistent with the stoichiometric ratio of NiCo2O4 and those previously reported [27]. The chemical composition of the material surface was further elucidated by X-ray Photoelectron Spectra (XPS). This data (Tab. 1) provided further proof that the materials were NiCo2O4 and also showed that the Ni and Co are present in multivalent forms consistent with a spinel type structure. The Ni 2p peak was composed of two spin-orbit doublets characteristic of Ni2+ (855 eV) and Ni3+ (874 eV) [15,28] while the presence of Co2+ and Co3+ was indicated with major signals in the Co 2p peak at the binding energies of 780 eV and 796 eV, respectively [10,29]. The presence of metal–oxygen bonds, consistent with formation of an oxide, was confirmed by a signal at ∼630 cm−1 in the FT-IR spectrum for each material [18,30].

The increased porosity of the templated materials was easily verified by SEM (Fig. 2) and confirmed by calculation of the specific surface area and pore size distribution (Tab. 1). The composites appear to be deposited as an irregular porous structure (as indicated by the XRD data) as observed in the NiCo2O4 ESM and PMMA template materials at high magnification. The N2 adsorption–desorption isotherms exhibited a hysteresis loop and analysis using the BET method showed that both template materials had a higher specific surface area than the blank material, with the PMMA template material having the largest surface area (50 times greater than the blank). The corresponding pore size distribution was calculated by the BJH method and confirmed that the ESM and PMMA samples exhibit a large pore volume and well-formed meso-porosity.

The electrochemical performance of the three synthesized NiCo2O4 materials was investigated by CV in a standard three-electrode cell and charge discharge (CD) methods using a 2 electrode configuration. The CV measurements showed a clear increase in redox behaviour with addition of the PMMA template (Fig. 3) as well as a dramatic increase in the peak current density. These results are mirrored in the CD data where the template materials clearly have a longer discharge time. The PMMA template material exhibits the best performance, as indicated by a doubling of the specific capacity compared with the non-templated blank (Tab. 1).

Superior performance of the PMMA templated material appears to be due to an increase in surface area and a much larger average pore size. Comparison of the specific capacitance of the PMMA template NiCo2O4 is complicated due to difficulties in direct comparison of capacitance values derived from 2- and 3-electrode systems. However, an approximate conversion between the 2 electrode CD system to that expected for a 3 electrode CD system results a capacitance of ∼160 F g−1, a value that is comparable with other mesoporous hydrothermally produced NiCo2O4 reported in the recent review by Dubal et al. [31].

thumbnail Fig. 1

XRD patterns for NiCo2O4 blank (blue), ESM templated (red), PMMA templated (green).

thumbnail Fig. 2

SEM and EDS for NiCo2O4 blank (a), ESM template (b), PMMA template (c).

thumbnail Fig. 3

CV curves (left) and CD behaviour (right) for NiCo2O4 blank (blue), ESM templated (red), PMMA templated (green).

4 Conclusions

The inclusion of removable polymer templates improved the electrochemical performance of hydrothermally synthesised NiCo2O4. It appears that templating improved performance in two ways: increasing material porosity, i.e. increasing available surface area and; increasing pore size into the mesoporous range, allowing better access to the surface. The relatively ordered polymethylmethacrylate template produced better results than the fibrous, irregular eggshell membrane template. The measured specific capacity for the polymer templated material is similar to that reported for other porous NiCo2O4 materials produced using simple hydrothermal synthetic methods.


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Cite this article as: Shaymaa Albohani, Manickam Minakshi Sundaram, Damian W. Laird, Polymer templated nickel cobaltate for energy storage, Renew. Energy Environ. Sustain. 2, 9 (2017)

All Tables

Table 1

Summary of surface chemistry and electrochemical data for NiCo2O4 electrode materials. Bold values represent the best performing material.

All Figures

thumbnail Fig. 1

XRD patterns for NiCo2O4 blank (blue), ESM templated (red), PMMA templated (green).

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 2

SEM and EDS for NiCo2O4 blank (a), ESM template (b), PMMA template (c).

In the text
thumbnail Fig. 3

CV curves (left) and CD behaviour (right) for NiCo2O4 blank (blue), ESM templated (red), PMMA templated (green).

In the text

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