Coffee-Driven Green Activation of Cellulose and Its Use for All-Paper Flexible Supercapacitors

Cellulose, which is one of the most-abundant and -renewable natural resources, has been extensively explored as an alternative substance for electrode materials such as activated carbons. Here, we demonstrate a new class of coffee-mediated green activation of cellulose as a new environmentally benign chemical-activation strategy and its potential use for all-paper flexible supercapacitors. A piece of paper towel is soaked in espresso coffee (acting as a natural activating agent) and then pyrolyzed to yield paper-derived activated carbons (denoted as “EK-ACs”). Potassium ions (K+), a core ingredient of espresso, play a viable role in facilitating pyrolysis kinetics and also in achieving a well-developed microporous structure in the EK-ACs. As a result, the EK-ACs show significant improvement in specific capacitance (131 F g–1 at a scan rate of 1.0 mV s–1) over control ACs (64 F g–1) obtained from the carbonization of a pristine paper towel. All-paper flexible supercapacitors are fabricated by assembling EK-ACs/carbon nanotube mixture-embedded paper towels (as electrodes), poly­(vinyl alcohol)/KOH mixture-impregnated paper towels (as electrolytes), and polydimethylsiloxane-infiltrated paper towels (as packaging substances). The introduction of the EK-ACs (as an electrode material) and the paper towel (as a deformable and compliant substrate) enables the resulting all-paper supercapacitor to provide reliable and sustainable cell performance as well as exceptional mechanical flexibility. Notably, no appreciable loss in the cell capacitance is observed after repeated bending (over 5000 cycles) or multiple folding. The coffee-mediated green activation of cellulose and the resultant all-paper flexible supercapacitors open new material and system opportunities for eco-friendly high-performance flexible power sources.