Batteries power everything, from laptops to smartphones, drones to electric cars. Batteries have also taken to the sky as several companies are working on battery-powered electric aircraft! However, the current lithium-ion batteries have several limitations that affect their applications in many practical ways. Scientists have been working hard on using different materials to make better batteries. One of such new materials is graphene, but there has not been a significant breakthrough!
However, a group of researchers has developed a new graphene battery that promises huge improvements. Who are these scientists, and how does their graphene battery work? Stay with us till the end as we dive into the new graphene battery revealed by scientists that changes everything!
Most of the world’s electronics that can work without being plugged into a socket are equipped with batteries. The battery’s job is to store the electricity that powers the device. When the amount of charge in the battery goes down, the device is plugged into a power source, which could be another battery, and the amount of charge is brought up again. Thanks to lithium-ion batteries, electric vehicles have come to stay.
Before the advent of lithium-ion batteries, EVs suffered from prohibitively limiting driving ranges and long charging times. However, lithium-ion batteries have allowed cars to have longer ranges and shorter charging times. This is not to say lithium-ion batteries don’t have their own drawbacks. Despite that they offer improvements, they are still heavy. In fact, they make electric cars heavier than internal combustion engine cars.
They also still take a long to charge and cost so much, pushing the price of EVs higher than many people can afford. Also, liquid or gel electrolytes are flammable and can freeze, so they need costly warming, cooling, and safety monitoring. Additionally, fast charging can result in lithium metal spikes that can pierce the battery’s permeable “separator,” short-circuiting the cell.
While solid-state batteries promise some improvements, one downside is that lithium formation on the anode causes the cell to physically expand, which must be accounted for in the pack design. They are also costly to produce, and several companies are scrambling to bring down the price as they race to be the first to offer them as a product! One area of battery research that has been generating a buzz is a graphene-based battery. It has been lauded as the next frontier in battery development and will solve many lithium-ion battery problems.
But what exactly is graphene?
Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It is the building block of Graphite that you find in the tip of the ordinary pencil. However, graphene is a remarkable substance with numerous astonishing properties that have earned it the title “wonder material.” Graphene is the thinnest material known to man at one atom thick and incredibly strong! It is about 200 times stronger than steel!
Apart from that, graphene is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity and has interesting light absorption abilities. Graphene can change the world as it is a material with unlimited potential for integration in almost any industry! Graphene is a highly diverse material that can be combined with other elements (including gases and metals) to produce different materials with superior properties.
Researchers worldwide continue to constantly investigate and patent graphene to learn its various properties and possible applications, which include transistors, computer chips, supercapacitors, and even DNA sequencing! Graphene is also useful in water filters, antennas, touchscreens for LCD or OLED displays, and solar cells! Graphene is extremely useful, and scientists are finding new applications for it every day! However, producing high-quality materials is still a challenge.
Dozens of companies worldwide are already making different types and grades of graphene materials, from high-quality single-layer graphene synthesized using a CVD-based process to graphene flakes produced from Graphite in large volumes. High-end graphene sheets are primarily used in R&D activities or in extreme applications such as sensors, but graphene flakes, produced in large volumes and at lower prices, are adopted in many applications such as sports equipment, consumer electronics, automotive and more.
Graphene Battery Technologies
However, one of the hottest areas of graphene R&D is the battery. Battery makers are interested in graphene for several reasons, especially for application in electric vehicles. They want to take advantage of the high porosity, greater surface area, extreme strength, and lightweight to improve their batteries. Additionally, these materials possess high-charging capability and flexibility and are good conductors of thermal and electrical energy, making them a suitable material to store energy.
The high electrical conductivity of graphene increases the electrode density and accelerates the chemical reaction within the battery, which enables greater power transfer and faster charge speeds with less heat. Graphene also undergoes less degradation compared to lithium while delivering an improved performance, which prolongs the lifespan of EV batteries substantially.
Moreover, graphene batteries are also cost-efficient and sustainable compared to other EV batteries. Among the different graphene-based battery technologies and types, graphene lithium-ion batteries are expected to be implemented soonest. Solid-state graphene batteries could begin arriving within the next 4 to 8 years, and graphene supercapacitors within ten years.
Graphene sodium-ion and graphene aluminum-ion batteries can realistically replace lithium-ion batteries. They are much cheaper and easier to recycle, and sodium and aluminum are more abundant in nature than lithium. Graphene aluminum-ion batteries can become the primary EV battery in the future as graphene aluminum cells can charge 60 times faster compared to lithium-ion cells and hold significantly more energy than pure aluminum cells.
For instance, graphene aluminum-ion cells can recharge an AA battery within a minute and a coin-cell battery in 10 seconds. One of the companies pursuing graphene battery tech is Nanotech Energy, a startup based in Los Angeles. Nanotech has found a way to eliminate the safety concerns of batteries once and for all with a fireproof, graphene-based lithium-ion battery! This is huge as it is a true game-changer in the battery industry! Nanotech has developed graphene electrodes: the battery’s positive, the cathode, and the negative terminal, the anode.
Graphene’s flexibility means that it can withstand the volume changes of the battery electrodes during charge and discharge. This reduces the chances of an internal short circuit, which can potentially lead to a fire. What’s more, graphene is an excellent conductor of electricity, which helps the battery maintain a lower internal resistance. This means Nanotech’s battery can maintain a lower internal temperature!
As a result, it provides an efficient solution to overheating during charging, another potential cause of fire! The fire hazard of the conventional lithium-ion battery stems from the electrolyte, which is a vital part as it transfers lithium ions between the two electrodes during charge and discharge. It happens to be the most explosive component! Most electrolytes in use today involve dissolving a lithium salt in a liquid material composed primarily of linear and cyclic chain carbonates.
Basically, molecules that involve a carbon atom are attached to three oxygen atoms. These liquids are typically flammable and can be volatile and unstable when exposed to high temperatures. To avoid this problem, Nanotech has developed a proprietary electrolyte solution, called OrganoLyte that is stable. It is made from inexpensive materials, easy to manufacture, and, of course, non-flammable! The graphene battery electrodes must be separated by a material through which the ions transfer.
Here again, Nanotech Energy has replaced the typical polyolefin separator with a new material that improves polyolefin’s thermal stability. This also helps to make the batteries safer. Of course, you don’t expect Nanotech to share its secret sauce with the rest of the world as that would be playing into the hands of their competitor. However, the name suggests the material still centers around organic chemistry.
However, Nanotech has run a series of tests to demonstrate that its graphene- OrganoLyte battery shows enhanced thermal stability and eliminates fire risk. In the short video distributed to media houses, the company conducts a nail abuse test and a heating test at 180 degrees Celsius. In both, the standard lithium-ion battery used instantly catches fire, while the graphene battery remains unharmed! It is like watching the impossible happen!
Meanwhile, testing Nanotech’s graphene battery has yielded some impressive results! The battery maintains performance at extreme temperatures; -20 to 60 degrees Celsius. But it holds charge at temperatures as high as 176 degrees and won’t catch fire when penetrated with a nail or heated to more than 704 degrees! But apart from high resistance to fire, Nanotech’s battery is extremely powerful. It retains more than 80 percent of its rated capacity through 1,400 cycles and charges 18 times faster than anything currently available!
This is courtesy of graphene’s strong electrical conductivity, which lowers the battery’s internal resistance. In addition, the company’s new batteries can be completely personalized to fit any form factor or container and can be used for consumer electronics, electric vehicles, and any electrified machines.
Another advantage of Nanotech’s graphene battery is that it is easy to manufacture. Current manufacturing equipment and processes currently in use to make lithium-ion pouch and cylinder batteries can produce Nanotech’s graphene battery. A factory designed to build them is currently slated to open in late 2022 in Nevada! Let’s hear what you think of graphene batteries in the comment section below!