Battery materials developed by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Vorbeck Materials in Jessup, Maryland, allow power tools and other devices that use lithium-ion batteries to be charged in minutes rather than hours. In addition, graphene battery technology promises to increase capacity by using silicon anodes instead of carbon in new lithium-ion battery solutions.
Additionally, some manufacturers, such as Positec (which makes Worx, Rockwell, and Kress), already use some graphene battery technology in select portable power tools.
Table of contents
- What is graphene?
- Who invented the graphene battery?
- Adding graphene to lithium-ion batteries
- Samsung graphene ball
- Are graphene batteries better than lithium-ion batteries?
- What graphene batteries mean for power tools
- Other benefits of using graphene in lithium-ion batteries
- Current status of graphene battery technology
- Graphene-Powered Supercapacitors – Curved Graphene
- Huawei graphene-assisted high-temperature lithium-ion battery
- Strategic Elements Graphene Oxide Self-Rechargeable Battery
- GMG graphene aluminum ion battery
- NASA SABERS solid-state graphene battery
- The Future of Graphene Batteries
What is graphene?
Graphene exists as a single layer of carbon atoms. These atoms are arranged in an organized hexagonal pattern. Graphene is almost a "two-dimensional" material with some unique physical and chemical properties that give it several advantages, including high electrical conductivity, excellent mechanical strength and high thermal conductivity.
In fact, graphene conducts electricity 100 times more efficiently than copper! It also transfers electrons 140 times faster than silicon. That's why the graphene material is so important in discovering how to charge batteries faster.
Manufacturers (and scientists) see graphene as a promising material for a wide range of applications. Based on research and how we see it used today, it could play a very important role in electronics, energy storage and composites. Given graphene's unique properties, it actually has the potential to revolutionize the energy storage and power density available in the best power tools.
Who invented the graphene battery?
The invention of graphene batteries began with the discovery of how to obtain graphene in its single-atom form. This is generally credited to a team of researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK. In 2004, a team led by Nobel laureate Sir Andre Geim and Russian-British physicist Konstantin Novoselov discovered some interesting properties of graphene.
In Andre and Kostya's weekly "Friday Night Experiment," two scientists used adhesive tape to remove some flakes from bulk graphite. Noticing that some flakes were thinner than others, they continued their experiment. By repeatedly separating pieces of graphite, they eventually produced flakes that were only one atom thick! The experiment led to the first instance of graphene being isolated.
Adding graphene to lithium-ion batteries
Vorbeck Materials Corp. collaborated with Ilhan Aksay, professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton University. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has demonstrated that small amounts of graphene, an ultrathin sheet of carbon atoms, can dramatically increase the power and cycle stability of lithium-ion batteries. Furthermore, it can do this while maintaining a high energy storage capacity.
In 2016, Beijing-based Tunghsu Optoelectronics Technology launched the 4800mAh G-King battery. This laptop-style battery charges in 15 minutes and supports up to 3500 cycles.
Samsung graphene ball
In 2017, the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) unveiled its "graphene sphere." This unique battery material has shown a 45% increase in storage capacity and can be charged five times faster than standard lithium-ion batteries.
This new technology promises to bring huge advantages to mobile devices and electric vehicles. Once you realize that graphene spheres can maintain a steady 60 degrees Celsius, the electric vehicle market makes quite a lot of sense.
Samsung was the first to synthesize graphene into a 3D form, which was then applied to batteries. It does this using affordable silicon dioxide (SiO2). They applied this "graphene ball" to the positive electrode protective layer and positive electrode material of lithium-ion batteries.
Are graphene batteries better than lithium-ion batteries?
The power density of standard lithium-ion batteries continues to grow, but they haven't made huge leaps in reducing charge times. Graphene batteries offer two major advantages over standard lithium-ion batteries:
- They can store more energy in the same size package, and
- They charge faster due to supporting higher conductivity
The way it works is simple — at least in theory. Using graphene-based batteries is a whole new direction. It makes battery cells charge faster. Lithium-ion batteries work by using a liquid electrolyte to transfer lithium ions between a cathode and an anode. This takes time, especially during the charging phase.
However, improving the cathode by coating it with graphene could allow more ion transfer. This also increases transfer speed .
Beyond that, the researchers plan to harness nanotechnology in another way. Graphene's nanotechnological properties could help produce reusable silicon-based anodes. These enhance the overall storage capacity of the battery. The graphene battery equation is as follows:
More Storage + Faster Charging + Cooler, Stable Operating Temperature
Given that coating anodes and cathodes with nanometer-sized graphene sheets or spheres enables faster charging, higher power density, and better thermal management, the advantages for power tools are many. Your high-capacity cordless drill or circular saw battery can be recharged in minutes instead of an hour. It also has the potential to run five times longer.
Additionally, fast charge times are accompanied by fast discharge times. This means you can get more power out of your graphene battery faster. This has the potential to bring more powerful corded tools and equipment to battery platforms more quickly. Power delivery is no longer a huge issue.
Additionally, you can see improvements in charging times, with the concept of "all-day runtime" extending to larger and larger tools. The Milwaukee MX FUEL line of equipment is a great example of this potential. With fast enough battery charging, even larger tools can run on one battery pack while the other is fully charged. If the charging time is lower than the expected actual running time, you can achieve all-day use.
Other benefits of using graphene in lithium-ion batteries
The researchers are very confident in graphene's ability to act as a conductivity enhancer. In fact, they claim that graphene-based phone batteries, which currently take 1 to 5 hours to fully charge, will now take less than 10 minutes to fully charge!
Current status of graphene battery technology
Graphene batteries are already on the market. The CAT-branded power tool claims to feature graphene battery technology that can charge a 5Ah battery in less than 20 minutes. They also have a lifespan 4 times longer than Li-ion batteries and operate cooler. Others are sure to follow, and some may have released batteries with graphene technology but haven't brought them to market yet.
Graphene-Powered Supercapacitors – Curved Graphene
We're seeing some really interesting stuff coming to market in various places called graphene-powered supercapacitors. A company called Skeleton has several different products on the market, including their SkelCap line. These curved graphene supercapacitors feature high energy density and low internal resistance.
As you can imagine, the higher energy density means these batteries are well suited for the electric vehicle, heavy-duty transportation and industrial markets. In these areas, both weight and space play a key role in the efficiency of the vehicle.
Graphene supercapacitors also generate less heat — even under high current loads. These graphene supercapacitors feature a curved design that exposes more surface area to the electric current. This reduces drag and increases efficiency.
Finally, Skeleton claims their graphene-powered supercapacitors have a lifespan of 15 years or more! When we look at electric vehicles and heavy equipment, the 15-year useful life starts to really make sense. We'd like to see this particular technology appear on commercial vehicles and some EVs first.
Huawei graphene-assisted high-temperature lithium-ion battery
In 2016, China's Huawei announced a major breakthrough in its lithium-ion battery research. At the 57th Battery Symposium in Japan, they demonstrated the world's first long-life graphene-assisted lithium-ion battery that can withstand high temperatures. They claimed at the time that the temperature was reduced by 5 degrees Celsius compared to existing batteries on the market.
When applied in the field, real-world environmental benefits increased by 10 degrees Celsius. Applications include regions with hot climates and frequent power outages (such as Africa). Electric vehicle applications are also still possible.
As of 2023, the technology has appeared in the company's graphene film cooling technology, which is used to remove heat from mobile phone batteries. In this way, Huawei continues to rely primarily on graphene's fast heat-conducting properties rather than using it in actual batteries.
Due to the current chip embargo on the company, Huawei also plans to start using graphene in its semiconductors and transistors to create new chip technology comparable to traditional silicon technology. The use of graphene (via carbon nanotube chips) also has the potential to speed up communication and reduce costs.
Strategic Elements Graphene Oxide Self-Rechargeable Battery
Strategic Elements is working on a new battery technology that uses a graphene oxide-based liquid ink. The process involves applying graphene oxide ink to glass. It is supposed to be able to harvest energy from the air or moisture present in the skin to recharge itself — in just a few minutes. Strategic Elements is working with the University of New South Wales to test and develop the technology. They will target the new graphene oxide battery technology at the diverse market for IoT devices.
Graphene oxide batteries have the potential to recharge themselves from moisture in the air or on your skin, which sounds like an amazing leap forward for watches, low-power e-readers and more. Imagine not needing manual charging or wires! Learn more here.
GMG graphene aluminum ion battery
GMG is developing graphene aluminum-ion battery technology in collaboration with the University of Queensland Research Center and UniQuest. The new formulation has high energy and power density compared to current lithium-ion battery technology. It claims 3x longer battery life and 70x faster charging.
As of June 2022, GMG has produced graphene aluminum-ion batteries in the form of pouch cells. GMG plans to build a commercial coin cell graphene aluminum ion (G+AI) battery manufacturing plant first, followed by mass production of parallel pouch cells.
NASA SABERS solid-state graphene battery
Not to be outdone, NASA plans to develop its SABERS solid-state graphene battery. SABERS stands for Solid State Architecture Batteries with Enhanced Charging Capability and Safety. NASA SABERS batteries have been in development for many years at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to enable applications previously thought impossible, such as battery-powered flight.
Making a graphene battery (or any battery for that matter) suitable for flight requires a few things. It must have sufficient power density—more power in less space. The battery must also be as light as possible. It must be able to discharge quickly and must scale to any application.
It also needs to be very safe, as it must power a vehicle with the potential to carry hundreds of passengers. This means eliminating any potentially toxic or flammable chemicals. So far, according to reports, SABERS looks poised to come up with a convincing solution… eventually.
SABERS solid-state graphene batteries currently deliver 500 watt-hours per kilogram. Even the best battery technology currently used in electric vehicles has around twice the energy density. The regional flight target is about 480 Wh. Learn more here.
The Future of Graphene Batteries
As for the future of graphene-based nanotechnology, it remains a complex and expensive process. With further research and economies of scale, it should enable cordless power tools to run longer. It should also let manufacturers pack more power into smaller packages. In between, cooler operating temperatures and faster charging – graphene battery technology could revolutionize cordless tools, electric vehicles and heavy equipment within the next five to 10 years.
Rather than pick the direction that graphene battery technology might take, let's imagine it impacting all fields. This includes solid state, for cooling technology, bending solutions for accelerated charging and full integration into anodes and cathodes. Regarding some of the more advanced announcements we've seen, imagine the possibilities. Put a graphene battery with double the power density in an electric car that can travel 1000 miles per charge! You'll also be able to recharge in the same (or less) time as your existing vehicle, with a range of about 350 miles.
It sure made our imaginations soar!