Could Graphene Change the Way You Charge Your iPhone?

Graphene, a nano-scale wonder material, is one of the hottest areas of materials science research. Discovered in 2004 by two Russian emigre scientists, Andrei Geim and Kostya Novoselov at the University of Manchester, graphene's revolutionary physical properties won the two scientists the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics. 

What's so special about graphene?
At first graphene doesn't seem all that special. After all, the scientists who discovered it made it by applying sticky tape to graphite, which is found in pencil lead. Yet Steve Connor, the science editor of the UK's Independent newspaper, has dubbed graphene "the scientific find of the century."

Graphene is a two dimensional sheet of carbon just one atom thick. It's the strongest substance ever discovered -- 100 times stronger than steel by weight. However, graphene also has amazing electrical and optical properties that mean it could revolutionize the computer, telecommunications, and electronics industries. This article will explain how researchers are looking to graphene to potentially revolutionize energy storage technology and bring about a cleaner, greener tomorrow. 

Graphene: making batteries obsolete? 
At UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute,

Tesla Model S source

Dr. Richard Kaner and his graduate student Maher El-Kady are working on graphene-based supercapacitors that promise to combine the energy density of traditional batteries with the ability to charge up to a thousand times faster. As an added bonus these supercapacitors could be made cheaply and without any environmentally harmful materials (they are biodegradable and can even be composted). 

iPhone 5S source:

Just how fast are we talking? Well, they claim that this technology could charge an iPhone in five seconds, a MacBook in 30 seconds, and an electric car in the same time it takes to fill up a gas tank. Better yet, the micro-supercapacitors are highly flexible and bendable. This means they would make ideal power sources for future foldable and wearable electronics.

Of course, headlines are full of promising new energy storage technology that often can't make it out of the lab and into commercial applications. That's what makes this graphene supercapacitor breakthrough so exciting. Not only have the researchers discovered a potentially revolutionary way to store energy, but they've also come up with a way to produce it cheaply, on a mass scale. 

According to Maher El-Kady, one of the developers of this technology: "Traditional methods for the fabrication of micro-super capacitors involve labor-intensive lithographic techniques that have proven difficult for building cost-effective devices, thus limiting their commercial application. Instead, we used a consumer-grade LightScribe DVD burner to produce graphene micro-supercapacitors over large areas at a fraction of the cost of traditional devices. Using this technique, we have been able to produce more than 100 micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in less than 30 minutes, using inexpensive materials."

Better yet, the new fabrication technique also helps to improve the supercapacitor's storage ability, by maximizing the surface area between the two electrodes.

So how close is the world to experiencing the magic of graphene micro supercapacitors? Well, according to Dr. Kaner, "We are now looking for industry partners to help us mass-produce our graphene micro-supercapacitors."

One potential such partner is Maxwell Technologies, a manufacturer of energy storage devices and carbon-based supercapacitors, which has been a big supporter of Dr. Kaner's research thus far.

Applications seemingly limitless
The potential for graphene supercapacitors transcends just consumer electronics and electric cars. It has the potential to revolutionize

Roof top solar installation source: SolarCity

almost any industry connected to power.  For example, due to superior cycling stability, graphene supercapacitors show much better longevity compared to micro-batteries -- thus the potential for better biomedical implants such as pacemakers, as well as micro-sensors, and radio frequency ID tags.

Even more exciting is the potential for graphene supercapacitors to be integrated into solar power systems. This would give an affordable way for a rooftop solar systems, which are growing exponentially in popularity thanks to companies such as SolarCity, to store cleanly generated power for use at night. Thus, graphene supercapacitors could prove monumental in helping solar energy overcome its greatest drawback and help provide the world of tomorrow with nearly limitless, clean, renewable energy.

Leaked: Apple's next smart device (warning, it may shock you)
Apple recently recruited a secret-development "dream team" to guarantee its newest smart device was kept hidden from the public for as long as possible. But the secret is out, and some early viewers are claiming its everyday impact could trump the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. In fact, ABI Research predicts 485 million of this type of device will be sold per year. But one small company makes Apple's gadget possible. And its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early-in-the-know investors. To be one of them, and see Apple's newest smart gizmo, just click here!

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  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 12:39 PM, Dro1992 wrote:

    As an Electrical Engineer, I've done some minor studies about graphene. The possibilities are endless. It has immense material property improvements over silicon meaning transistors and boards could be further reduced in size. As of now, we are reaching the material limits of silicon. As this article mentions, its use in batteries could also be immense.

  • Report this Comment On August 13, 2014, at 8:17 PM, AdamGalas wrote:

    I just recently wrote about how graphene could revolutionize computing.

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Adam Galas

Adam Galas is an energy writer for The Motley Fool and a retired Army Medical Services Officer. After serving his country in the global war on terror, he has come home to serve investors by teaching them how to invest better in order to achieve their financial dreams.

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