Sydney: A combination of graphite and water could revolutionise energy storage by recharging batteries in mere seconds while performing as efficiently as lithium ion batteries.
Dan Li, from Monash University’s department of materials engineering, and his team have been working with a material called graphene, which could form the basis of the next generation of hyperfast energy storage systems.
“Once we can properly manipulate this material, your iPhone, for example, could charge in a few seconds, or possibly faster,” said Li.
Graphene is the result of breaking down graphite, a cheap, readily available material commonly used in pencils, into layers one atom thick. In this form, it has remarkable properties, according to a Monash statement.
Graphene is strong, chemically stable, an excellent conductor of electricity and importantly, has an extremely high surface area, all of which make it extremely suitable for energy storage applications.
“The reason graphene is not being used everywhere is that these very thin sheets, when stacked into a usable macrostructure, immediately bond together, reforming graphite.
“When graphene restacks, most of the surface area is lost and it doesn’t behave like graphene anymore,” the Monash statement said.
Now, Li and his team have discovered the key to maintaining the remarkable properties of separate graphene sheets – water.
Keeping graphene moist – in gel form – provides repulsive forces between the sheets and prevents re-stacking, making it ready for real-world application.
“The technique is very simple and can easily be scaled up. When we discovered it, we thought it was unbelievable. We’re taking two basic, inexpensive materials – water and graphite – and making this new nano-material with amazing properties,” said Li.
He added that the benefits of developing this new nanotechnology extend beyond consumer electronics. “Graphene gel is also showing promise for use in water purification membranes, biomedical devices and sensors,” he said.