Think of an electronic device—preferably the consumer type. Laptops, cellphones, etc. Remember when they used to get uncomfortably hot after just a bit of use? We’ve certainly come a long way since those days.
Recently, it turned out that graphene, the wonder-material that’s showing tremendous promise in a range of industrial applications, might be able to push cooling technology even further. After cooling technologies, however, the next most important part of these devices is battery management.
Today, we’ve got the luxuries of ultra-powerful smartphones (compared to the cellphones of the 1990s, that is), tablet devices, and razor-thin laptops. Most of these run on lithium-ion batteries. Those batteries—their lifetime and recharging ability—are what indicate how feasibly we continue to use these devices. Now, as PC Advisor reports, it seems that graphene may also be able to function as a supercapacitor.
Let’s take this bit by bit. Today’s batteries boast high charge capacities. That capacity, always on the increase, is a bit of a one-way street. The working model is that we improve battery efficiency by increasing how much charge each battery.
On the other end, we try to delay the dissipation of this charge by various means (optimizing the software drag on power, for example, or by improving device ‘sleep’ settings, and so on). Thus we try to store ever-greater amounts of charge in batteries while trying to stave off the inevitable depletion.
The downside to this model is that recharging batteries takes a significant amount of time. The more capacious the battery is, the longer you need to charge it.
Standard capacitors charge much faster, but they can’t compare to today’s batteries in terms of how much charge they hold. A supercapacitor, as the name implies, continues to charge faster but can hold vastly greater amounts of charge.
Graphene-based supercapacitors, then, could hypothetically slash charge times to negligible amounts while continuing to provide high charge capacities.
Combine that with the other things we’ve already established about graphene. It’s a superb conductor. It’s ridiculously thin and flexible. It has several hundred times the tensile strength of steel.
Could you imagine the possibilities of smartphones powered by graphene—from build material to power source to display unit? A super-strong hardware device with ample charge capacity, a rapid recharge, and a flexible screen. Welcome to the smartphone of tomorrow.
Graphene-based supercapacitors also outdo standard anode/cathode/electrolyte batteries because they don’t need these discrete elements, the degradation of any one of which, over time, marks an irreversible decline in the battery’s capacity and charge.
Graphene Tech Research
The Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea is leading the charge for graphene-based supercapacitors. ScienceDaily has a succinct run-down of the technical details.
The most compelling figures you should know are these: after some 10,000 charge cycles (i.e. charging the battery fully, discharging it fully, and recharging over again), the capacitance was seen to be about 96 percent of the original. Compare that to the average rechargeable battery, which can last up to a few hundred cycles before beginning its long, slow decline.
The Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) Macbook Air I’m writing this on (2010 model) is currently in its 373rd battery charge cycle, and I can achieve a maximum charge of just 89 percent of the original capacity.
Graphene is something you should be considering very seriously because its range of possible applications appears quite limitless right now. From NASA to every consumer electronics manufacturer on the planet, graphene has something to offer them all.
Samsung (OTC: SSNLF), for example, is already working on flexible graphene screen prototypes. Wearable phones, wearable tablet devices even, are definitely not that far off.
The British government is another leader in the emergent graphene sector. It has set aside £21.5 billion ($32.5 billion) for numerous universities across the United Kingdom for graphene research, and major industry names like Dyson, Rolls Royce (LSE: RR), and BAE Systems (LSE: BA) are coordinating their research.
The biggest hurdle right now is developing some kind of ‘killer’ industry app, something that could really ignite imaginations (particularly those of risk-leery venture capitalists), in order to get a momentum going for graphene tech in general. It’s possible that the first such radical developments will come at us from the smartphone industry. Watch closely.
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