SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- With more and more states legalizing medical marijuana, pot's non-psychoactive cousin, industrial hemp, is making a comeback. And some researchers say the plant's fibers could be used to build the next generation of super-capacitors.
Supercapacitors are essentially high performance batteries. They store and release energy to power machines and electronics. But where as traditional batteries can only release energy at a slow and steady drip, supercapacitors can release lots of energy from its storage mechanism all at once -- making them essentially for machines that need lots of power in quick bursts, like the breaking system of an electronic car.
Today's supercapacitors mostly use graphene -- stacks of pure carbon sheet, each one atom thick -- to store and relinquish energy. But researchers and investors think industrial hemp fibers can store and release energy just as well, if not more efficiently, than graphene.
Dr. David Mitlin recently spun a research group at Canada's Alberta University into a business venture called Alta Supercaps. His company wants to develop large scale help-based supercapacitors.
"Obviously hemp can't do all the things graphene can," Mitlin recently told BBC News. "But for energy storage, it works just as well. And it costs a fraction of the price -- $500 to $1,000 a tonne."
Mitlin, who laid out the principles of hemp energy storage in a paper for ACS Nano last year, recently shared his company's ambitions with attendees at the American Chemical Society's annual conference, taking place this week in San Francisco.
"We're past the proof-of-principle stage for the fully functional supercapacitor," Mitlin said. "Now we're gearing up for small-scale manufacturing."
Mitlin says he hopes to develop capacitors for the oil and gas industry, which need energy storage systems that can function at high temperatures.