Batteries are the bedrock of energy storage. They enable us to use wireless technology, which contributed to the widespread use of electronic devices in the 21st century. Battery technology reached a key milestone in 1985 when the first commercially-viable, lithium-ion battery was produced, setting the foundation for the next 30 years of personal electronics.
However, lithium-ion batteries do have a downside. Obtaining the materials to build lithium-ion batteries is energy intensive, and the extraction process has environmental consequences. Furthermore, batteries have a finite lifespan which means they must be eventually disposed of, a process that requires infrastructure and energy if it is to be done correctly.
The Graphene Battery Breakthrough
Presently, we have arrived at a crossroads where there are numerous new battery options that are replacing a market previously dominated by lithium-ion and alkaline batteries. Specifically, graphene could upset the status quo of how we store energy in personal electronics. It was first isolated and analyzed in 2004 .
Graphene is the two-dimensional allotrope of carbon that is structurally bound in a honeycomb lattice, and only one atom in width. It is a nanomaterial with a plethora of attributes that could radically change what is possible with energy storage and transmission in electronics.
Material graphene is far more sustainable to produce. It is made from pure carbon, and it does not require mining, an intensive refining process, or waste materials to be used in its development.
The main difference between graphene batteries and traditional batteries is the composition of one or both electrodes terminals. In lithium-ion or alkaline batteries, the cathode is composed of a single, solid metallic material. This is usually cobalt. Graphene hybrid batteries would be a composite of both graphene and metallic materials.
Presently, graphene is being integrated into new types of batteries such as lithium-sulphur cells to optimize the battery performance. Due to its high electrical and thermal conductivity coupled with the fact that it is chemically inert, graphene hybrid batteries charge and discharge faster, are lighter, and have a higher energy density .
A persistent and critical issue in battery technology has been how to better utilize metal oxides. They typically have low conductivity. Graphene offers a medium by which ions from metal oxides can be evenly distributed on through a process called induced bonding. This allows for the surface area to be maximized, increasing the performance of the cell.
In addition to the improvements that graphene offers, its utility applies to other aspects of energy storage and transmission such as supercapacitors. While graphene has not yet reached widespread use due to difficulties with mass production, breakthroughs are being reported around the world as scientists work to unlock the potential of this material.
Canadian and Global Graphene Usage
The graphene market is currently approximated to be worth 80 million USD globally and expected to increase by 38.7% from 2020 to 2027. As methods to mass produce graphene increase, so will its application. The automotive industry in particular is expected to be a major investor in the integration of graphene into electric vehicles. Of the top ten public companies leading graphene production and R&D, 3 are Canadian based.
As the demand for energy storage increases with the growth of user electronics, we should not lose sight of our responsibility to the environment. Graphene will not be the key to solving all our energy storage problems, but it may be the first step to better energy storage in the future.
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