Battery materials developed by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Vorbeck Materials Corp. of Jessup, Md., are enabling power tools and other devices that use lithium-ion batteries to recharge in just minutes rather than hours. In addition, graphene battery technology promises increased capacity through the use of silicon anodes instead of carbon for new lithium-ion battery solutions.
Additionally, several manufacturers, like Positec (who manufactures Worx, Rockwell, and Kress), already use some graphene battery technology in select portable power tools.
Table of Contents
- What is Graphene?
- Who Invented Graphene Batteries?
- Are Graphene Batteries Better Than Lithium-ion?
- What Graphene Batteries Could Mean for Power Tools
- Other Upsides to Using Graphene in Lithium-ion Cells
- The Current State of Graphene Battery Technology
- 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 lives as almost a “two-dimensional” material with some unique physical and chemical properties that give it several advantages, These include high electrical conductivity, excellent mechanical strength, and high thermal conductivity.
In fact, graphene is 100X more effective at conducting electricity than copper! It also passes electrons at up to 140X faster than silicon. This is what makes graphene material so important in discovering how to charge batteries more quickly.
Manufacturers (and scientists) consider graphene a promising material for a wide range of applications. Based on both research and how we see it used today, it could play a very important role in electronics, energy storage, and composites. Given the unique properties of graphene, it actually has the potential to revolutionize energy storage and the power density available in the best power tools.
Who Invented Graphene Batteries?
The invention of graphene batteries started with the discovery of how to acquire graphene in a single-atom form. That is usually attributed to a team of researchers from the University of Manchester, UK. The team, led by Nobel Prize winners Sir Andre Geim and Russian-British physicist Konstantin Novoselov discovered some interesting attributes of graphene in 2004.
During one of Andre and Kostya’s weekly “Friday night experiments”, the two scientists used sticky tape to remove some flakes from a lump of bulk graphite. Noticing that some flakes were thinner than others, they continued experimenting. By repeatedly separating the graphite fragments, they eventually created flakes measuring just one atom thick! This 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) demonstrated that small quantities of graphene—an ultra-thin sheet of carbon atoms—can dramatically improve the power and cycling stability of lithium-ion batteries. Plus, it can do this while maintaining high energy storage capacity.
In 2016, Beijing-based Dongxu Optoelectronic Technology debuted its 4800 mAh G-King battery. This laptop-style battery recharged in less than 15 minutes and supported up to 3500 cycles.
Samsung Graphene Ball
In 2017, the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) announced its “graphene ball”. This unique battery material showed a 45% increase in storage capacity coupled with charging speeds up to 5X that of a standard lithium-ion battery.
The new technology promises huge advantages for mobile devices as well as EVs. The EV market makes considerable sense once you realize the graphene ball can hold a stable 60-degree Celsius temperature.
Samsung pioneered methods of synthesizing graphene into a 3D form and then applying it to batteries. It did this using affordable silica (SiO2). They applied this “graphene ball” on both the anode protective layer and cathode materials in lithium-ion batteries.
Are Graphene Batteries Better Than Lithium-ion?
Standard lithium-ion batteries continue to grow in power density, but they haven’t made monumental leaps in reducing charge time. Graphene batteries come with two major advantages over standard lithium-ion:
- They can store larger amounts of energy in the same size package, and
- They can recharge much more quickly thanks to supporting higher electrical conductivity
The way it works is simple—at least in theory. The use of graphene-based batteries is a completely new direction. It gets battery cells to charge more quickly. Lithium-ion batteries work by transferring lithium ions between a cathode and an anode using a liquid electrolyte. That takes a certain amount of time, especially during the recharging phase.
However, improving the cathodes by coating them with graphene allows more ions to transfer. This also increases the speed of transfer.
On top of this, the researchers plan to utilize nanotechnology in another way. The nanotech properties of graphene help produce reusable silicon-based anodes. These enhance a battery’s overall storage capabilities. The graphene battery equation looks like the following:
More storage + faster recharging + cooler, stable operating temperatures
What Graphene Batteries Could Mean for Power Tools
Given that coating anodes and cathodes with nano-sized sheets or balls of graphene results in faster charging, greater power density, and better heat management, the advantages for power tools are numerous. Your high-capacity cordless drill or circular saw battery could recharge in just a few minutes instead of an hour. It could also potentially run for five times as long.
Also, with fast charging times come fast discharging times. That means you can get more power out of a graphene battery more quickly. That has the potential to bring even more powerful corded tools and equipment onto a battery platform more quickly. Power delivery no longer presents as much of a problem.
In addition, you could see such improvement in charging times that the notion of “all-day run-time” expands to larger and larger tools. The Milwaukee MX FUEL line of equipment provides a great example of this potential. With fast-enough charging of batteries, even larger tools can run one pack while another gets topped off. Provided the charge time falls under the expected real-world run-time, you achieve all-day use as a result.
Other Upsides to Using Graphene in Lithium-ion Cells
Researchers are very confident in the capabilities of graphene as a conductive enhancement. In fact, they claim graphene-based cell phone batteries, which currently take between one and five hours to fully recharge, would have their time reduced to under 10 minutes!
The Current State of Graphene Battery Technology
Graphene batteries have already hit the marketplace. CAT-branded power tools claim graphene battery technology that lets them recharge a 5Ah battery in less than 20 minutes. They also boast 4X longer life over lithium-ion as well as cooler operating temperatures. Others are sure to follow, and some may already have released batteries with graphene technology who have not yet marketed it as such.
Graphene Powered Supercapacitors – Curved Graphene
Something very interesting that we see entering the market in various places goes by the name of graphene powered supercapacitors. One company, Skeleton, has several different products already on the market, including their SkelCap series. These curved graphene supercapacitors feature high energy density as well as low internal resistance.
As you can imagine, better energy density means these batteries fit right in with the EV and heavy transportation and industrial markets. In those sectors, both weight and space play key roles in the efficiency of vehicles.
Graphene supercapacitors also generate less heat—even under high-current loads. These graphene supercapacitors feature a curved design that exposes more of the surface area to the electric current. This reduces resistance and improves efficiency.
Lastly, Skeleton claims their graphene-powered supercapacitors have an application lifetime of up to 15 years or more! When we look at EVs and heavy equipment, a lifespan of 15 years starts to really make sense. We expect to see this particular technology show up first in commercial vehicles and some electric vehicles.
Huawei Graphene-Assisted High-Temperature Li-ion Batteries
In 2016, China-based Huawei announced a major breakthrough in its Li-ion battery research. At the 57th Battery Symposium in Japan, they unveiled the world’s first long-lifespan graphene-assisted Li-ion battery able to withstand high temperatures. They claimed, at the time, a reduction of 5 degrees C compared to existing batteries already in the market.
Applied in the field, the real-world environmental gains improved by up to 10 degrees C. Applications include areas where you have both hot climates and frequent power outages (like Africa). EV applications also remain a possibility.
As of 2023, this technology has shown up in the company’s Graphene Film Cooling Technology used to conduct heat away from the battery in cell phones. In this way, Huawei continues to lean mostly on the rapid heat conductivity properties of graphene as opposed to using it within their actual batteries.
Due to the current blockade of chips to the company, Huawei also plans to begin using graphene in their semiconductors and transistors to create new chip technologies that rival traditional silicon technology. The use of graphene (via carbon nanotube chips) could also potentially speed up communication and drop costs.
Strategic Elements Graphene Oxide Self-Charging Batteries
Strategic Elements is working on a new battery technology that uses liquid ink based on graphene oxide. The process involves coating the graphene oxide ink onto glass. It would supposedly be able to harvest energy from humidity present in the air or skin to self-charge—in just a few minutes. Strategic Elements is working with the University of New South Wales to test and develop the technology. They would target the new graphene oxide battery technology to the diverse market of IOT devices.
A graphene oxide battery with the potential to charge itself from the humidy in the air or on your skin sounds like an amazing leap forward for watches, low-power e-readers, and more. Imagine having no need for manual charging or wires! Learn more here.
GMG Graphene Aluminum-ion Battery
GMG, working with the University of Queensland Research and UniQuest, has under development graphene aluminum-ion battery technology. The new formulation features high energy and power densities compared to current lithium-ion battery technology. It claims up to 3X longer battery life and up to 70X faster charging speeds.
As of June 2022, GMG has already manufactured graphene aluminum-ion batteries in pouch cell format. GMG has plans to construct an initial commercial coin cell Graphene Aluminum-ion (G+AI) battery manufacturing facility followed by mass production of parallel pouch cell batteries.
NASA SABERS Solid State Graphene Battery
Not to be outdone, NASA has plans to develop its SABERS solid state graphene battery. SABERS stands for Solid-state Architecture Batteries for Enhanced Rechargeability and Safety. Under development for years at its Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, the NASA SABERS battery aims to allow for applications previously thought impossible—like battery-powered flight.
Making a graphene battery (or any battery for that matter) suitable for flight requires several things. It must have adequate power density—more power in less space. The battery also has to weigh as little as possible. It must be able to discharge quickly and has to scale to any application.
It also needs to be extremely safe since it has to power a vehicle with the potential, to carry hundreds of passengers. That means eliminating any potentially toxic or flammable chemicals. So far, according to reports, SABERS looks on track to present a compelling solution…eventually.
The SABERS solid-state graphene battery currently delivers 500 Watt-hours per kilogram. That comes in about twice the energy density of even the best battery technology used in current EVs. The regional target for flight falls around 480 Watt-hours. Learn more here.
The Future of Graphene Batteries
As for the future of graphene-based nanotechnology, it remains a complicated and expensive process. With further research and economy of scale, it should make cordless power tools run longer. It should also let manufacturers pack a lot more power into a smaller package. Between that, cooler operating temperatures, and faster charging—graphene battery technology could revolutionize cordless tools, EVs, and heavy equipment within the next 5-10 years.
Rather than choose a direction graphene battery technology is likely to take, we imagine it will hit all areas. That includes solid state, use in cooling technology, curved solutions for speeding up charging, and full integration into anodes and cathodes. With respect to some of the more advanced announcements we’ve seen, imagine the possibilities. Put a graphene-based battery with twice the power density into an EV and you could get as much as 1000 miles per charge! You would also gain the ability to recharge in the same (or less) time as current vehicles with ~350-mile ranges.
It certainly has our imaginations soaring!