The Miraculous Material Transforming Energy Storage

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By Tsvetana Paraskova

A material discovered less than two decades ago could become the key to safer, faster-charging and lighter batteries that power electronic devices, electric vehicles, and stationary energy storage.    Since the ‘supermaterial’ graphene was first isolated in 2004 by researchers at The University of Manchester in the UK, a growing number of graphene-making start-ups have been developing battery technologies which, the companies say, will usher in a future of fast-charging devices and electric vehicles (EVs), with higher energy capacity and without risks of overheating.

Graphene is only a single atom thick. It’s a superconductor of electricity and heat, and very light. It’s more than 100 times stronger than steel, but also 6 times lighter. Graphene slows the heating process in lithium batteries and allows up to five times faster charging speeds. Because it has low resistivity, graphene conducts heat evenly across the battery to help it cool, says one of the start-ups working with graphene, Real Graphene.

Graphene is not yet used in EVs or stationary storage systems, but developers of the material and technologies with it say that this supermaterial, because of its mechanical properties, holds the promise of more powerful, safer, and faster-charging batteries.

Graphene has the potential to be used not only in consumer electronics, but also in EVs and storage of solar and wind power, researchers at The University of Manchester say. Developing graphene supercapacitators could help enable high-performance electric supercars. Because graphene supercapacitators are light, they could also reduce the weight of cars or planes, according to the university, which is also studying, with its commercial partners, graphene’s potential in grid applications and storing wind or solar power.
Start-ups have recently accelerated the development of graphene and its incorporation into batteries.

Los Angeles-based graphene manufacturer Nanotech Energy, for example, said last year it had developed and scaled a process to produce graphene with more than 90 percent of its content monolayers—the purest form of graphene available in mass production quantities.

The company also launched in 2020 a proprietary non-flammable, high-performing battery ready for commercialization.

“We perfected the battery by utilizing the extraordinary electronic and mechanical properties of graphene to increase the battery capacity. To further increase the safety of a lithium ion battery, we took a step further by designing a non-flammable electrolyte that can withstand operation at high temperatures without catching fire,” Maher El-Kady, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Nanotech Energy, said at the time.

“Most industries and end users are confined to the technology of lithium-ion batteries, from smartphone and laptop manufacturers to automotive manufacturers to the consumer at large,” Dr. Jack Kavanaugh, chairman and CEO of Nanotech Energy, said.

“Nanotech Energy now offers all of these industries a path toward a safe and more powerful battery technology – a game changer for them,” Kavanaugh added.

Graphene Batteries of Norway is developing Lithium-sulfur (LiS) battery technology enhanced with graphene derivatives. The company has developed a sulfur cathode based on a proprietary method and is targeting stationary energy storage systems as one of the areas of application of its technology.

U.S. firm NanoGraf is developing silicon-graphene anode materials that enable longer-lasting and faster-charging batteries. NanoGraf believes that current lithium-ion battery chemistries have hit a plateau in performance improvements. The company says its silicon alloy-graphene material architecture in the anode could be customized to achieve between three and six times higher capacity than current graphite-based anodes.

Electric vehicles with batteries containing graphene will require at least four years of additional research and testing, NanoGraf’s Chip Breitenkamp, a polymer scientist and VP of business development, told Futurism at the end of last year.

The company is confident that its technology would work for EVs, but it knows it would take a few more years to have the thumbs-up for electric cars.

Graphene is an amazing material for batteries, Breitenkamp told Futurism, adding that, “Essentially, graphene can play a central role in powering a sustainable, electric future.”

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