Take pencil lead (graphite) separate it into one atom thick layers (graphene) add water and presto you have an amazing method for storing energy and recharging fast. Of course there is a bit more to it but that is the gist of the research.
Researchers at Monash University have been working with graphene which is known to be “strong, chemically stable, an excellent conductor of electricity and, importantly, has an extremely high surface area.” Over the past several years graphene has been shown to be better than silicon for circuits, a great base for supercapacitors, and a method for saving Moore’s law.
Now according to Dr Dan Li, of the Monash University Department of Materials Engineering, and his research team, graphene has the potential to create “energy storage” that is cheap and much quicker to recharge than current such systems. According to them, a graphene and water battery would be “on par with lithium ion batteries, but recharge in a matter of seconds and have an almost indefinite lifespan.” Rather than spending an hour or more to charge your electronics, it could take mere seconds.
Still as simple as the idea sounds there are complications. It is the thin one atom thick layers that are able to store energy in appreciable amounts, but when the layers are put into proximity with each other, they snap back together into graphite which is worthless unless you need a pencil.
The scientists discovered that if you put the graphene layers in water as a gel, rather than snapping back together, the layers are actually repelled allowing the atom thin layers to hold energy.
When used in energy devices, graphene gel significantly outperforms current carbon-based technology, both in terms of the amount of charge stored and how fast the charges can be delivered.
The materials are abundant and inexpensive and the process is easy to scale up meaning mass manufacture could be put in place quickly.
Li feels that once the process and materials are perfected, that this new type of storage system will be the key to making hybrids and electric vehicles more attractive than fossil fuel cars. Right now it takes several hours to recharge a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle. A perfected graphene battery might take seconds or possibly a few minutes.
He also sees graphene batteries as a better energy storage device for solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. While MIT has found a great way to store solar thermal energy, Monash may have found a better way to store solar energy as electricity.
Let’s hope that this technology can be perfected and make it to market soon. We could use batteries that are quickly recharged for just about all of the portable electronics in our lives, including our cars.
Graphene sheets illustration above. Credit: Gengping Jiang