Functionalization of graphene for efficient energy conversion and storage

Acc Chem Res. 2013 Jan 15;46(1):31-42. doi: 10.1021/ar300122m. Epub 2012 Oct 3.


As global energy consumption accelerates at an alarming rate, the development of clean and renewable energy conversion and storage systems has become more important than ever. Although the efficiency of energy conversion and storage devices depends on a variety of factors, their overall performance strongly relies on the structure and properties of the component materials. Nanotechnology has opened up new frontiers in materials science and engineering to meet this challenge by creating new materials, particularly carbon nanomaterials, for efficient energy conversion and storage. As a building block for carbon materials of all other dimensionalities (such as 0D buckyball, 1D nanotube, 3D graphite), the two-dimensional (2D) single atomic carbon sheet of graphene has emerged as an attractive candidate for energy applications due to its unique structure and properties. Like other materials, however, a graphene-based material that possesses desirable bulk properties rarely features the surface characteristics required for certain specific applications. Therefore, surface functionalization is essential, and researchers have devised various covalent and noncovalent chemistries for making graphene materials with the bulk and surface properties needed for efficient energy conversion and storage. In this Account, I summarize some of our new ideas and strategies for the controlled functionalization of graphene for the development of efficient energy conversion and storage devices, such as solar cells, fuel cells, supercapacitors, and batteries. The dangling bonds at the edge of graphene can be used for the covalent attachment of various chemical moieties while the graphene basal plane can be modified via either covalent or noncovalent functionalization. The asymmetric functionalization of the two opposite surfaces of individual graphene sheets with different moieties can lead to the self-assembly of graphene sheets into hierarchically structured materials. Judicious application of these site-selective reactions to graphene sheets has opened up a rich field of graphene-based energy materials with enhanced performance in energy conversion and storage. These results reveal the versatility of surface functionalization for making sophisticated graphene materials for energy applications. Even though many covalent and noncovalent functionalization methods have already been reported, vast opportunities remain for developing novel graphene materials for highly efficient energy conversion and storage systems.