Researchers from the University of Queensland and Brisbane-based Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG) are teaming up to develop faster-charging, more sustainable battery prototypes with lifespans three times the length of current lithium-ion batteries.
GMG, which was recently listed on the TSX Venture Exchange in Canada, has reached a research agreement with scientists from the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) to build batteries for anything from watches to grid storage and everything in between, including phones, laptops, and electric vehicles.
The University of Queensland technology, which sees an aluminum ion battery paired with graphene electrodes, was designed by Professor Michael Yu, Xiaodan Huang and postdoctoral student Yueqi Kong as a way to make graphene into more efficient electrodes for powering batteries. The technology has already been patented and licensed by UniQuest, the University of Queensland's commercialization company.
Graphene is the wonder material of the age. It's the thinnest and strongest material known to science, and, if that wasn’t enough, it is also a great conductor of electricity – better even than copper. Or at least, it would be the wonder material of the age if the so-called “graphene revolution” promised less and delivered more.
It was more than a decade ago that scientists from the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize for Physics thanks to some simple tape that proved to be a breakthrough in extracting graphene from everyday graphite.
In essence, graphene is just good old carbon, but it is tessellated in such a way to produce a bogglingly strong bond between atoms. Of course, like anything with so much promise and hype, the graphene revolution has taken longer than expected, but that is only because people don’t have much patience for the things they’ve been promised, especially when it is something as potentially ubiquitous as graphene.
Nevertheless, the University of Queensland and GMG are not the only parties making progress. In March, scientists at China’s Dalian University of Technology and the University of Nebraska in the United States collaborated to fabricate a battery consisting of a pure aluminum anode, a graphene cathode, and an organic electrolyte. The batteries are described in “Ultra-fast charging in aluminium-ion batteries: electric double layers on active anode,” which was recently published in Nature Communications.
Back in 2019, scientists at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) demonstrated a laser printing process that enables graphene supercapacitors to be embedded directly onto textiles, creating a fabric that can store energy and be integrated with a solar cell and used to power smart fabric applications.
“Testing showed rechargeable graphene aluminium ion batteries had a battery life of up to three times that of current leading lithium-ion batteries,” said AIBN Director Professor Alan Rowan. “And higher power density meant they charged up to 70 times faster.”
AIBN has been working hard on the technology for several years, and the research team is excited to be shifting into a commercial prototype development stage, especially as the promise on the cards is more efficient and greener batteries.
“The batteries are rechargeable for a larger number of cycles without deteriorating performance and are easier to recycle, reducing potential for harmful metals to leak into the environment,” said Rowan.
UniQuest CEO Dean Moss said he believes aluminum ion batteries with graphene electrodes “could transform the existing rechargeable battery market. Lithium-ion batteries demand the extraction of rare earth materials using large amounts of water and are processed with chemicals that can potentially harm the environment.”
GMG CEO Craig Nicol agrees, noting that the possibility for the energy storage market included far-reaching benefits in safety, efficiency, sustainability. He points to the ability of aluminum ion batteries “to use local raw materials to manufacture battery cells at a competitive cost to replace imported lithium-ion cells is a massive opportunity for GMG and Australia to reduce supply chain risks and create local jobs.”
University of Queensland scientists were awarded a AUD 390,000 ($303,600) grant over three years from the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Project in 2020 to develop graphene aluminum ion technology.
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