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Hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowires grown on carbon cloth as integrated electrode for high-performance supercapacitors

Scientific Reports volume 6, Article number: 31465 (2016) | Download Citation


Hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowires were grown on carbon cloth (CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4) by a two-step hydrothermal route to fabricate a flexible binder-free electrode. The prepared CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode was directly used as an electrode for faradaic supercapacitor. It shows a high areal capacitance of 2.917 F cm−2 at 2 mA cm−2 and excellent cycling stability with 90.6% retention over 2000 cycles at a high current density of 20 mA cm−2. The superior specific capacitance, rate and cycling performance can be ascribed to the fast transferring path for electrons and ions, synergic effect and the stability of the hierarchical core-shell structure.


In recent years, renewable and clean energy storage technologies have attracted considerable attention due to the serious environmental pollution and fossil-fuel energy crisis1,2,3,4,5,6. Furthermore, the extensive demand of electric vehicles and portable electronic devices promote humans to develop more new energy storage devices7,8,9. Lithium-ion batteries10, sodium-ion batteries11,12 and supercapacitors (SCs)13 are potential energy storage devices currently. Among them, SCs have competitive characteristics such as high power density, long cycle life, fast charging/discharging rate, good safety and low maintenance cost14. Although the carbonaceous materials such as active carbon15, porous carbon16, graphene17,18, and carbon nanotubes19 can deliver a high power density, the electrical double layer supercapacitive (EDLS) mechanism gives rise to their low specific capacitance and energy density. So the researchers mainly focus on developing faradaic electrode materials that have higher capacity and larger energy density. In the past few years, various faradaic electrode materials, including transition metal oxides20, hydroxides21,22, sulfides23,24 and conductive polymers25,26 were intensively developed. For example, MnO227,28, NiO29 and Co3O430 are some of the most notable faradaic electrode materials, but their intrinsic electrical conductivities are poor. Conductive polymers such as polyaniline26, polypyrrole31,32 and Poly (3, 4-ethylenedioxythiophene)33 can offer a high specific capacity, but the volume expansion leads to the poor cycling performance.

Currently, binary transition metal oxides such as NiCo2O434,35,36,37,38, NiMoO439,40,41,42,43 and CoMoO444,45 have been attracted much attention as electrode materials for supercapacitors because of their high electrical conductivity, remarkable specific capacity and environmental compatibility. For example, Lou et al.46 fabricated the NiCo2O4 nanorods and nanosheets on the carbon fiber through a facile solution method, and they delivered high capacitances of 1023.6 and 1002 F g−1, respectively. Huang et al.42 reported a Ni foam supported NiMoO4 nanoplate arrays integrated electrode, showing a high specific areal capacitance of 3.4 F cm−2 at 2 mA cm−2. However, in order to further improve the electrochemical performance, combining two types of binary metal oxides to form a unique hierarchical nanostructure is an efficient way. For example, Mai et al.45 reported hierarchical MnMoO4/CoMoO4 heterostructured nanowires, which showed an enhanced supercapacitive performance.

In addition, core-shell nanostructure electrode materials can effectively improve electrochemical performance47. For example, Cai et al.48 reported a manganese oxide/carbon york-shell anode for lithium-ion batteries, presenting a high capacity and excellent cycling performance at a high current density. Rational structure design of electrode is also important to its electrochemical performance. An efficient way is to synthesize binder-free designed electrode, because the host materials can directly connect with the conductive substrate. Carbon cloth is usually used as collector due to its low cost, high conductivity and flexibility49,50.

Herein, we fabricated hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowires grown on carbon cloth to form CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 composite by a two-step hydrothermal route and evaluated as a flexible integrated electrode for supercapacitor. Apparently, this unique hybrid structure has some advantages: (1) the synergic effect of NiCo2O4 and NiMoO4 can further improve the electrochemical performance; (2) the binder-free architecture can provide a fast electron transfer path, efficiently enhancing the rate performance; (3) the core-shell nanostructure is more stable, giving an excellent cycling stability at high current density. The as-fabricated carbon cloth supported hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 wires provide very high areal specific capacitance (ASC) of 2.917 F cm−2 at 2 mA cm−2. Moreover, the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode exhibits an excellent cyclabilty with 90.6% retention over 2000 cycles.

Results and Discussion

The schematic preparation process of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 is presented in Fig. 1. In this work, the fabrication of integrated CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 electrode contains two steps. Firstly, the aligned pristine NiCo2O4 nanowires were grown on a piece of carbon cloth to fabricate the CC@NiCo2O4 backbone by a facile hydrothermal reaction and post-annealing process. Afterwards, the interconnected tiny NiMoO4 nanosheets were uniformly deposited on the CC@NiCo2O4 backbone by a secondary hydrothermal process. Finally, the precursor was transformed to hierarchical core-shell CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode through an annealing process in the pure N2 atmosphere.

Figure 1: Schematic formation process of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode.
Figure 1

X-ray diffraction (XRD) was used to check the phase of as-prepared samples, as displayed in Fig. S1. We directly used the binder-free samples for XRD test. The patterns indicate that the pure carbon cloth has two obvious unique characteristic peak of carbon49. Additionally, except for the diffraction peak of carbon, all the identified peaks can be well indexed to cubic spinel NiCo2O4 (JCPDS no. 20-0781) and monoclinic NiMoO4 phase (JCPDS no. 86-0361).

The morphologies of CC@NiCo2O4, and CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 are displayed in Fig. 2. Figure 2a shows the scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of bare carbon fibers before loading active materials. The diameter of the carbon fiber is around 10–15 μm, and the surface is smooth, which facilitates to deposit active materials on its surface. From Fig. 2b, we can see that the NiCo2O4 nanowires are uniformly distributed on the carbon fiber in the low-magnification microscopy. Figure 2c,d show that the aligned NiCo2O4 nanowires with average diameter of about 200 nm are vertically grown on the carbon fiber substrate. The NiCo2O4 nanowires backbone structure on the carbon cloth and the space between the nanowires provide space for the growth of NiMoO4 nanosheets. Figure 2e depicts that the surface of NiCo2O4 nanowires becomes rougher and larger after the secondary hydrothermal route. In the high-magnification image (Fig. 2f), we can see that the NiCo2O4 nanowires are decorated with many tiny NiMoO4 nanosheets. The diameter of the hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowires is about 600 nm, bigger than initial diameter of the NiCo2O4 nanowires. Besides, the NiMoO4 nanosheets can be also uniformly grown on the carbon cloth via the same hydrothermal route to form NiMoO4@CC integrated electrode (Fig. S2). The hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 can obviously improve the mass loading of unit area on the carbon cloth substrate, increasing the specific areal capacitance of the binder-free integrated electrode. More importantly, the unique nanostructure decreases the resistance of electrons from the active materials to the conductive substrate, providing higher rate performance of the electrode. Finally, the core-shell hybrid structure has better cycling stability.

Figure 2: SEM analysis results of as prepared electrode materials.
Figure 2

(a) SEM image of bare carbon cloth. (b–d) SEM images of NiCo2O4 nanowires on the carbon cloth. (e,f) SEM images of hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowires on the carbon cloth.

We used transmission electron microscope (TEM) and High-resolution TEM (HR-TEM) to further analyze the microstructure of the hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowires. Figure 3a–c present the TEM and HR-TEM images of NiCo2O4 nanowires backbone on the carbon cloth. From Fig. 3a, we can see that the nanowires of NiCo2O4 contain many nanoparticles and pores. Figure 3b indicates that the diameter of NiCo2O4 nanowires is about 100–150 nm. The selected area electron diffraction (SAED) in the inset of Fig. 3b clearly shows the polycrystalline structure of NiCo2O4 nanowires, further demonstrating that the nanowires are composed of nanoparticles. The well-defined rings are ascribed to (111), (220), (311) and (400) planes of cubic spinel NiCo2O4 (JCPDS no. 20-0781). From the HR-TEM image in Fig. 3c, we can see that interplanar spacing of the well-defined lattice fringes is 0.46 nm, corresponding to the (111) planes of NiCo2O4 nanowires on the carbon cloth.

Figure 3: TEM and elemental analysis results of as prepared electrode materials.
Figure 3

(a,b) TEM images of NiCo2O4 naowires. (c) HR-TEM image of a single NiCo2O4 naowire. (d) TEM image of an individual hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowire. (e) HR-TEM image of an individual NiMoO4 nanosheet outside. (fk) EDS and elemental mapping of a single hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowire under TEM mode.

Figure 3d reveals a typical TEM image of the NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowire. The image shows obvious core-shell hybrid nanostructure. The tiny NiMoO4 nanosheets are uniformly grown along the NiCo2O4 wire, forming a hierarchical structure. In addition, the HR-TEM image in Fig. 3e indicates the interplanar spacing of 0.7 nm corresponding to the (001) planes of NiMoO4 nanosheets outside, confirming the core-shell structure. NiCo2O4 nanowires not only serve as active material in the integrated electrode, but also provide a fast electronic transfer path because of their higher conductivity. The backbone of NiCo2O4 wires is beneficial to the rate performance of the hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode. We also analyzed the elements of the hybrid electrode material using EDS and mapping under the TEM mode. From Fig. 3f, we can see that the electrode material mainly contains Ni, Co, Mo, O elements, corresponding to the NiCo2O4 and NiMoO4 phase. Except for the four elements above, we can also find some Cu and C, which come from the Cu mesh substrate and carbon cloth fiber, respectively. The element mappings (Fig. 3g–k) clearly show that O and Ni are uniformly distributed within the whole hybrid electrode material, while Co and Mo are concentrated in the core and shell sites, respectively. So the element analysis further demonstrates that the hybrid electrode is a hierarchical core-shell nanostructure, in which NiCo2O4 nanowires and NiMoO4 nanosheets serve as core and shell, respectively.

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) was employed to further confirm the elements and the valence states in the integrated electrode, as shown in Fig. S3. For the Ni 2p core level spectrum (Fig. S3a), the peaks located at 872.9 and 879.7 eV correspond to Ni 2p1/2, while the peaks at 855.4 and 861.2 eV to Ni 2p3/2. The gap between Ni 2p3/2 and Ni 2p1/2 is 17.5 eV, indicative of the Ni2 oxidation state51. From Fig. S3b, the peaks at 233.4 and 236.5 eV are ascribed to the Mo 3d5/2 and Mo 3d3/2, respectively. The energy gap of 3.1 eV shows a Mo6+ oxidation state. For Co 2p, the peaks at 779.5 and 794.6 eV are accounted for the Co3+, while the peaks at 781.2 and 796.3 eV are due to the Co2+ oxidation state. The O 1s can be deconvoluted into O1, O2 and O3, which refer to the O-Co/Ni bonding, defect sites and physic-chemisorbed water, respectively42,52.

The porous characterization of NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 was measured by nitrogen adsorption and desorption at 77 K. Figure S4 shows that the Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) surface area is 91.97 m2 g−1, which means that the electrode material has rich active surface to react with electrolyte ions. Furthermore, the corresponding pore size distribution calculated by Barrett-Joyner-Halenda (BJH) is about 30.8 nm, which can facilitate fast transfer of electrolyte ions in the electrode.

The obtained CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 sample was directly used as integrated electrode. The electrochemical performance was investigated in a three-electrode system. We chose 3 mol l−1 KOH as electrolyte, and the reference electrode and counter electrode were standard Hg/HgO and Pt foil, respectively. Figure 4a compares the charge and discharge curves of three integrated electrodes (CC@NiCo2O4, CC@NiMoO4, and CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4) at 2 mA cm−2. The result shows that the discharge time of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 is the longest, indicating its best specific capacitance. Cyclic voltammetry (CV) measurement was also carried out at various scan rates at the same potential window (see Fig. 4b). Apparently, the well-defined redox peaks in each CV profile are ascribed to the reversible faradaic redox reactions of Ni/Co-O, Ni/Co-O-OH with OH. Besides, even at high scan rate of 50 mV s−1, the CV profile remains similar, implying excellent rate performance and chemical stability. Figure 4c presents the galvanostatic discharge curves at various current densities for CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 electrode. We can see a discharge plateau at the voltage of 0.35 V, according to the CV redox peaks. The ASC of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 electrode is calculated based on eqn. (1) (see Methods). Remarkably, the ASC of as-prepared CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 electrode is 2.917, 2.748, 2.406, 2.072 and 1.608 F cm−2 at current densities of 2, 5, 10, 20 and 40 mA cm−2, respectively. Moreover, the ASC can still keep to 55.1% of the initial value at 40 mA cm−2.

Figure 4: Electrochemical performance of as prepared CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode.
Figure 4

(a) Galvanostatic charge and discharge profiles of the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4, CC@NiCo2O4, CC@ NiMoO4 integrated electrode at 2 mA cm−2. (b) CV curves of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode at various scan rates in the voltage window of 0–0.7 V. (c). Galvanostatic charge-discharge profiles of the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode at different current densities. (d,e) Areal and Mass specific capacitance of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4, CC@NiCo2O4, CC@ NiMoO4 integrated electrode at different scan rates. (f) Cycling stability of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4, CC@NiCo2O4, CC@ NiMoO4 integrated electrode at 20 mA cm−2.

As comparisons, the ASCs of CC@NiCo2O4 and CC @NiMoO4 integrated electrode are 1.003 and 2.29 F cm−2 at 2 mA cm−2 (Fig. 4d), lower than those of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode. Figure 4e shows the mass specific capacitance (MSC) calculated by mass loading density according to eqn. (2) (see Methods). The MSC of the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode is 1325.9, 1249.1, 1093.6, 941.8 and 730.9 F g−1, respectively. The values are also higher than CC@NiCo2O4 and CC@NiMoO4 electrodes at the same testing condition. The electrochemical performance of the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 electrode is better than most of the reported individual binary metal oxides like NiCo2O4 nanowires (1283 F g−1 at 1 A g−1)36, NiMoO4 nanowires (1.27 F cm−2 at 5 mA cm−2)41, and NiMoO4 nanosheets (1221.2 F g−1 at 1 A g−1)43.

Figure 4f presents the cycling performance at 20 mA cm−2. The results show that the ASC of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode can remain 90.6% of the initial value even after 2000 cycles, much higher than those of the CC@NiCo2O4 (76.3%) and CC@NiMoO4 integrated electrode (72.1%). This high cycling performance can be explained by the synergic effect of NiCo2O4 and NiMoO4. Besides, the core-shell hierarchical nanostructure has better structure stability during the cycling process.

Such high ASC and rate performance of the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode demonstrate the great advantage of the hierarchical core-shell nanostructure. The schematic transport and redox reaction process for electrons and electrolyte ions in the electrode is illustrated in Fig. 5a. Because NiCo2O4 has higher electronic conductivity, so electrons can efficiently transfer from the carbon cloth to the NiMoO4 nanosheets via the backbone of the NiCo2O4 nanowires. So this integrated electrode has sufficient electrons to participate in the redox reaction. Furthermore, the ions can penetrate into the NiMoO4 nanosheets to react with the inner NiCo2O4 nanowires to improve the electrochemical performance of the whole integrated electrode. Finally, the hierarchical core-shell nanostructure has better stability, so it cannot be easily destroyed during the redox reaction process.

Figure 5
Figure 5

(a) Schematic transport and redox reaction process of electrons and ions in CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode. (b) Electrochemical impedance spectra of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4, CC@NiCo2O4 and CC@ NiMoO4 integrated electrodes.

Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) was used to analyze the electrochemical mechanism. Figure 5b shows the Nyquist plots of CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 in the frequency range of 0.01–100 kHz. As can be seen, the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 electrode exhibits the lowest charge transfer resistance (Rct), suggesting the largest efficient electro-active surface area. Furthermore, the diffusion resistance of the electrode is also lowest, indicating the fastest electrolyte ion diffusion during the redox reaction.

In conclusion, a two-step hydrothermal route has been carried out to fabricate hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowires grown on carbon cloth as electrode for faradaic supercapacitors. The fabricated CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode shows an enhanced capacitance of 2.917 F cm−2 at 2 mA cm−2 and excellent cyclability with 90.6% retention over 2000 cycles. The superior faradaic capacitance can be accounted for the rational core-shell hierarchical nanostructure and the synergic of NiCo2O4 nanowires and NiMoO4 nanosheets. We believe that the design and synthesis method can open up a promising and efficient way to develop new electrode materials for high-performance supercapaitors.


Materials synthesis

CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode was fabricated by a two-step hydrothermal route followed by thermal annealing in inert gas. Firstly, the uniform NiCo2O4 nanowires were grown on the carbon cloth through a facile hydrothermal reaction to form CC@NiCo2O4 nanowires. Then NiMoO4 nanosheets were synthesized based on the backbone of NiCo2O4 nanowires to fabricate the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode by a secondary hydrothermal reaction. In a typical process, 2 mmol Co(NO3)2·6H2O, 1 mmol Ni(NO3)2·6H2O and 9 mmol urea were dissolved into 50 ml distilled water to achieve a clear pink solution. A piece of carbon cloth was pretreated by ultrasonic in deionized water and absolute ethanol each for 30 min. Then the cleaned carbon cloth was placed in the solution. The hydrothermal temperature and time were to 120 °C and 6 h, respectively. The coated carbon cloth was cleaned by deionized water and ethanol, and then dried in oven at 80 °C for 12 h. Finally, the sample was annealed in pure N2 atmosphere at 400 °C for 3 h to obtain CC@NiCo2O4 integrated electrode.

A secondary hydrothermal reaction was adopted to grow the NiMoO4 nanosheets on the backbone of NiCo2O4 nanowires to fabricate the CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode. Briefly, 1 mmol Na2MoO4·2H2O and 1 mmol Ni(NO3)2·6H2O were dissolved in 50 ml mixed solvent (the volume ratio of distilled water and absolute ethanol is 1:1) to achieve a precursor solution, and then put into a stainless steel autoclave. The as-preparedCC@NiCo2O4 integrated electrode was sealed in the autoclave, and kept at 130 °C for 6 h. The resulting sample was taken out and rinsed with deionized water and ethanol for several times, followed by annealing at 400 °C for 2 h in pure N2 to obtain CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 integrated electrode. We also fabricated CC@NiMoO4 integrated electrode with the same condition.

Material Characterizations

XRD (Panalytical X’pert PRO, Holland, Cu Kαl irradiation, λ = 1.5406 Å, scan rate: 5° min−1) was performed using a multi-purpose diffractometer to analyze the phase. The field-emission SEM (FE-SEM, FEI Sirion200, Holland) was used to characterize the morphology of the products. The microstructure and element analysis were characterized using TEM (JEOL JEM-2010F, Japan) coupled with an EDS X-ray spectrometer (Oxford Instrument). XPS measurement was carried out using Al Kα X-ray. The BET surface area, pore size and volume were measured by N2 absorption on a Micromeritics ASAP 2020 analyzer.

Electrochemical measurements

Electrochemical measurements were carried out in a three-electrode configuration on CHI760E electrochemical workstation (Chenhua, Shanghai). The binder-free CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 was directly used as working electrode, and the nominal area was about 1 cm2. A Hg/HgO electrode and high-pure Pt foil served as reference and counter electrode, respectively. The electrolyte was 3 mol l−1 KOH. The mass-loading of CC@NiCo2O4, CC@NiMoO4, and CC@NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 were 1.2, 1 and 2.1 mg cm−2, respectively.

Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) was measured using an alternating-current (AC) voltage with 5 mV, and the frequency was 0.01–100 kHz. The specific capacitance was calculated by equation (1) and (2).

where Cs and Cm are the areal and mass capacitance of the active material supported on the carbon cloth, respectively. i is the discharge current applied to the electrode (A); t is the discharge time from high to low potential (s) and ΔU is the gap of high and low potential (V).

Additional Information

How to cite this article: Huang, L. et al. Hierarchical core-shell NiCo2O4@NiMoO4 nanowires grown on carbon cloth as integrated electrode for high-performance supercapacitors. Sci. Rep. 6, 31465; doi: 10.1038/srep31465 (2016).


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This work is financially supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (51361130151, 60306011), and PCSIRT (Program for Changjiang Scholars and Innovative Research Team in University, IRT14R18). The authors thank Analytical and Testing Center of HUST for XRD, SEM, and XPS. We also appreciate the State Key Laboratory of Materials Processing and Die & Mould Technology of HUST for TEM and BET measurements.

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  1. State Key Laboratory of Material Processing and Die & Mould Technology, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430074, China

    • Liang Huang
    • , Wei Zhang
    • , Jinwei Xiang
    • , Henghui Xu
    • , Guolong Li
    •  & Yunhui Huang


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L.H. designed and performed the experiments, and analyzed the experimental data. W.Z., J.X., H.X. and G.L. assisted with some of the experiments. Y.H. guided the work and analysis. L.H. and Y.H. wrote the paper.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Yunhui Huang.

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