Nonlinear dynamics of capacitive charging and desalination by porous electrodes

P.M. Biesheuvel, M.Z. Bazant

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199 Citations (Scopus)


The rapid and efficient exchange of ions between porous electrodes and aqueous solutions is important in many applications, such as electrical energy storage by supercapacitors, water desalination and purification by capacitive deionization, and capacitive extraction of renewable energy from a salinity difference. Here, we present a unified mean-field theory for capacitive charging and desalination by ideally polarizable porous electrodes (without Faradaic reactions or specific adsorption of ions) valid in the limit of thin double layers (compared to typical pore dimensions). We illustrate the theory for the case of a dilute, symmetric, binary electrolyte using the Gouy-Chapman-Stern (GCS) model of the double layer, for which simple formulae are available for salt adsorption and capacitive charging of the diffuse part of the double layer. We solve the full GCS mean-field theory numerically for realistic parameters in capacitive deionization, and we derive reduced models for two limiting regimes with different time scales: (i) in the “supercapacitor regime” of small voltages and/or early times, the porous electrode acts like a transmission line, governed by a linear diffusion equation for the electrostatic potential, scaled to the RC time of a single pore, and (ii) in the “desalination regime” of large voltages and long times, the porous electrode slowly absorbs counterions, governed by coupled, nonlinear diffusion equations for the pore-averaged potential and salt concentration
Original languageEnglish
Article number031502
Number of pages12
JournalPhysical Review. E, Statistical nonlinear, and soft matter physics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • double-layer capacitors
  • electrochemical capacitors
  • carbon electrode
  • deionization
  • model
  • efficiency
  • cell

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