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,
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).
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
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.