What does graphite oxide, a DVD, and a burner with LightScribe functionality have in common? They're all part of a research project which resulted in the production of reliable ultrahigh energy density supercapactiors, a technology that's been touted as a possible solution to lacklustre energy storage in modern machines.
Producing these capacitors involves spreading a layer of graphite oxide onto an ordinary DVD, then inserting it into a LightScribe capable burner. The graphite is then reduced to a mechanically robust graphene lattice with high conductivity and surface area (an important factor for capacitance). Two of these sheets sandwiched together with a dielectric separating them act as a complete flexible capacitor, measuring less than 100 microns thick. The Science paper by Maher F. El-Kady, Veronica Strong, Sergey Dubin, and Richard B. Kaner describes the process in detail.
If there's one thing that's bottlenecking the rate of which performance increases on portable devices, it's the battery technology struggling to keep up. Power efficient System on Chip (SoC) designs, larger batteries, improved display technologies such as OLED, and tight coupling of circuitry such as 4G radios all help to curb the effects of battery use. Even with all these efforts, the 'battery anxiety' issues of the current generation make it difficult to become truly portable. At some stage of the day you're going to find yourself tethered to a USB or wall outlet.
It's not just gadgets either, cars and even houses lack cheap reliable and high capacity battery solutions. The future of auto is electric, but we simply cannot afford to transfer battery anxiety concerns to cars - that's just insanity, which is why most electric vehicles are hybrids, or just outright expensive to cater for larger energy capacity. If solar manages to become affordable enough for the average home owner, where will we store excess power?
Research into the area of battery tech is vital for current tech to improve into the future. Eventually stories of battery breakthroughs will come through with a solid marketable product, but until then, we can dream of a time where we can disappear for a week and still have a functional phone and laptop.