Graphene has been in a perpetual state of “just about ready to revolutionize the world” for years, but it's time may have just arrived for car batteries.
If graphene batteries do everything scientists say, they could be a game-changer. They hold way more power. They charge almost instantly. Graphene batteries show a 50 percent increase in run time compared to conventional lithium-ion ones, a 25 percent drop in carbon footprint, and half the weight needed to provide the same output. And, to tick the last important box, they're cheaper than lithium-ion batteries too.
This is the future of transportation that some scientists promise is coming soon. They say that by super-powering batteries with graphene (a sheet of carbon just one atom thick) everything from power tools to electric cars will charge faster, hold more power, cost less, and maybe even help civilization move away faster from planet-destroying fossil fuels. And these marvelous batteries could start to roll out, they say, by sometime next year.
“Graphene is an amazing material, and it’s particularly amazing as a material for batteries,” Chip Breitenkamp, a polymer scientist at the graphene battery company NanoGraf, told Futurism. “Essentially, graphene can play a central role in powering a sustainable, electric future,” he added. The basic idea comes down to chemistry. Over the course of decades, battery makers came to embrace lithium over silicon because it has a high electrical capacity. But lithium has two key problems. It conducts electricity poorly and tends to physically deform as it discharges, ultimately shearing and cracking. Mixing or coating the lithium with graphene solves both issues. Graphene is highly conductive, allowing electricity to flow, and rigid, so it helps the lithium keep its shape, allowing the battery to last longer.
Another benefit: Because the graphene’s sturdiness grants batteries so many more life cycles than a conventional battery, advocates say, they can “push” them harder and charge them faster with a more powerful electric current. They’ll degrade more rapidly, but their abundance of discharge cycles still grants them a longer lifetime than conventional batteries. Graphene, first isolated in 2004, has been in a perpetual state of “just about ready to revolutionize the world” for years. What's taking so long?
“The batteries that go into EVs require extremely long test cycles,” Breitenkamp says. “So, you can imagine, those batteries have to be tested for three to four years at a minimum. It’s not about getting our technology to work in an EV right now. We fully believe that it would, but it’s a matter of all the validation necessary to getting into an EV.”
“It’s not a matter of whether it works, it’s a matter of how long it takes before it gets the thumbs up on things like safety and longevity,” Breitenkamp added. It’s highly likely that graphene batteries are attracting interest beyond the startup community and many are speculating that Tesla is also testing the same technology.