- Graphene lithium-ion EV batteries are 1-2 years away
- Solid-state batteries are 4-8 years away
- Graphene supercapacitors are 5-10 years away
- Graphene aluminium-ion looks very promising
- There are several competing technologies
- The biggest barrier for all battery technologies is cost
Dr Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist and co-founder of string field theory, believes that graphene will change the way we live. In his book, The Future of Humanity, he illustrates graphene’s properties eloquently:
“Graphene is one of the strongest substances known to science, stronger than diamond. You can take an elephant, balance that elephant on a pencil, and put the pencil on graphene, and the graphene will not break.”
Indeed, when people discuss graphene, they love to talk about its wondrous mechanical characteristics; how it’s around 200 times stronger than steel, yet 1,000 times lighter than paper.
Incredible as it seems, graphene is also nearly invisible, absorbing just 2.3% of light.
The magnificent properties of graphene sound too good to be true. We’re accustomed to the coldness of metal, the transparency of glass. Merging the two sounds absurd. Yet here we are with graphene, the next wonder material.
This article explores graphene EV batteries and the wider future of batteries in electric vehicles, detailing the most viable technologies today.
- Latest developments
- What is graphene?
- How is graphene made?
- Graphene – a new age for EV batteries?
- Graphene battery types and technologies
- Graphene lithium-ion battery
- Graphene aluminium-ion battery
- Graphene sodium-ion batteries
- Graphene-enhanced lead-acid batteries
- Solid-state batteries
- Lithium-metal solid-state batteries
- All-graphene battery
- What is the most promising graphene battery technology?
- What are the downsides of graphene EV batteries?
- The top 10 EV battery makers
- The top graphene manufacturers
- Is Tesla making a graphene EV battery?
- February 22 2022: Zentek announces patent-pending graphene-wrapped silicon anode, potentially solving the expansion issue of silicon as an anode material.
- February 1 2022: British company Sprint Power is working on technology that will deliver an 80% charge in as little as 12 minutes.
- January 20 2022: First Graphene seals funding for pouch cell supercapacitors using First Graphene’s unique hybrid-graphene material .
- January 13 2022: Scientists at the University of Michigan have created a 1,000 cycle lithium-sulfur battery that can quintuple EV range.
- January 8 2022: LA startup Nanotech Energy unveils a graphene-based li-ion battery that is fireproof and commercially viable.
- December 222 2021: GMG Graphene sends graphene aluminium-ion batteries to customers for testing.
- December 13 2021: VW partners with 24M technologies for SemiSolid battery tech, committing to solid-state battery technology.
- December 06 2021: Factorial Energy, based in Woburn, Massachusetts, signs up Mercedes, Kia and Hyundai for its FEST solid-state battery.
- December 02 2021: Bosch announces volume production of silicon carbide chips, enabling faster charge speeds for electric vehicles.
- November 29 2021: Nissan announces solid-state batteries by 2028 using proprietary cobalt-free technology. The ASSB batteries will slash charging times by a third and last longer.
- November 29 2021: Alpine 4 acquires ElecJet for its graphene battery technology and patents. ElecJet’s graphene lithium battery will enhance battery cells currently used by EV manufacturers.
- November 21 2021: NanoMalaysia and UMORIE Graphene announce a full-cell lithium-ion battery enhanced with graphene for scooters and small electric vehicles.
- November 17 2021: Allied Market Research publishes a report, titled, “Graphene Battery Market” and predicts the graphene market will grow at an astonishing rate.
- November 16 2021: Quantumscale achieves solid-state battery development goal ahead of schedule, successfully executing 10-layer cell performance tests.
- November 1 2021: Lyten develops a graphene-enhanced lithium-sulphur battery for EVs. It contains no oxygen from metal oxides, cobalt or nickel.
- October 4 2021: Yadea launches its graphene battery technology for two-wheel electric vehicles. It has self-regulating efficiency with no range drop in winter.
- August 11 2021: Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG) presents its latest innovation, a graphene aluminium-ion battery that charges 60% faster than the best lithium-ion battery packs.
- July 29 2021: Chinese company CATL announces its first sodium-ion battery in a breakthrough for lithium alternatives. It has an energy density of 160Wh/kg and takes 15 minutes to reach an 80% charge, with no lithium.
What is graphene?
Graphene is a 2D structure of Graphite, a single flat layer of carbon atoms arranged into a supportive honeycomb lattice.
How can graphene be 2D? Because it is only one atom thick, so has only two dimensions – length and width. At one atom, the height of graphene is considered to be zero. It is so small, that to see it, you need x60,000 magnification!
Unsurprisingly, then, graphene is the thinnest material known to man.
Here’s an image of graphene under the microscope:
How is graphene made?
There are a few ways to make graphene. The most consistent technique is Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapour Deposition (PE-CVD).
PE-CVD heats a special concoction of gases (Including carbon) into a plasma in a vacuum. The plasma creates a graphene layer on a plate made from either nickel or copper. The graphene is then extracted from the plate.
Here’s a diagram of the graphene manufacturing process:
PE-CVD has several benefits, including catalyst-free and transfer-free growth and lower operating substrate temperatures.
Another technique is Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD). CVD is a simpler, cheaper manufacturing method, with a very low diffusivity coefficient. This technique involves a special concoction of gases mixed with a reactant. The graphene grows on a nickel or copper surface, and it is then separated from the metal.
Graphene – a new age for EV batteries?
Another wondrous property of graphene is its high electrical conductivity. Simply put, it increases electrode density and speeds up the chemical reaction inside the battery, enabling faster charge speeds and greater power transfer with less heat.
Graphene studies have shown it degrades less than lithium while enhancing performance, potentially increasing the lifespan of EV batteries tenfold.
Graphene batteries already exist. Google “turnigy graphene” — those small batteries charge in around a minute for 1,300mAh!
The way graphene batteries work is similar to lithium-ion batteries: the battery cells have two conductive plates coated in a porous material immersed in an electrolyte solution, with the electrolyte solution facilitating ion transfer. When a current passes through, there’s a chemical reaction that charges the ions.
Graphene battery types and technologies
Graphene has multiple competing applications in battery technology. Let’s take a look at the most promising so far:
Graphene lithium-ion battery
For electric vehicles, the easiest, most viable graphene battery today is the enhanced graphene-lithium-ion battery.
In a graphene-li-ion battery, graphene is introduced to the cathode, improving the performance and stability of the battery, creating a faster, more efficient battery.
Numerous research papers have validated the benefits of graphene in cathode materials, so this is the logical next step of EV batteries. This technology is only 1-2 years away but requires investment in graphene production.
Recently, NanoMalaysia (NMB) made a full-cell lithium-ion battery enhanced with graphene. The graphene-based pouch cell battery is a working prototype that enables rapid charge speeds with high energy density, ideal for electric scooters and electric cars.
The big barrier to widespread manufacturing is complexity. Manufacturing graphene EV batteries at an industrial scale to the quality required is difficult and expensive.
Graphene aluminium-ion battery
The graphene aluminium-ion battery could be the future of the electric car battery. 60 times faster than lithium-ion cells, the aluminium-graphene cells charge in minutes and can hold three times the energy of pure aluminium cells.
For example, the graphene aluminium-ion cells will recharge a coin cell battery in 10 seconds and an AA battery in less than a minute.
The battery is made by Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG) and it has been peer-reviewed, with the peer review finding that it “surpasses all previously reported AIB cathode materials”. However, the most incredible feature is no requirement for cooling or heating. “It does not overheat and it nicely operates below zero so far in testing”, says GMG Managing Director Craig Nicol.
Nicol also believes the technology can be applied to electric cars today with a little engineering. The batteries are the same shape and voltage as lithium-ion cells, so they could be a true plug and play upgrade.
Related: How to choose an EV home charger
GMG Graphene designed the aluminium-ion battery to charge faster than the best lithium-ion cells, including graphene lithium-ion.
The commercial viability of the aluminium-ion battery is enormous because it has the same voltage and shape as lithium-ion batteries. GMG Graphene intends to make an interchangeable battery for electric vehicles in the future that will use “grandmaster electronics” to increase adoption rates.
Graphene sodium-ion batteries
The graphene sodium-ion battery is another potential EV battery of the future because it can hold a similar capacity to lithium-ion batteries while charging faster and reducing lithium dependency. Sodium salt, the electrolyte material, is cheaper than lithium and more abundant.
The addition of graphene to the battery facilitates even faster charge speeds than standard sodium-ion batteries, which are already faster than lithium-ion.
Making sodium-ion batteries
To make graphene sodium-ion batteries, researchers attach a single series of benzene molecules to the graphene to increase the spacing between the layers of graphene to allow sodium ions to enter. Ordinarily, graphene is too tightly packed for sodium ions to enter.
In addition, the benzene layer creates defects on the graphene surface, helping the ions penetrate it. The result is profound – while graphene will hold around 35 milliAmpere-hours per gram, the new graphene holds over 330 mAh/g.
In July, Chinese battery company CATL announced its first sodium-ion battery. It will have an energy density of 160Wh/kg and take 15 minutes to reach 80% of its charge. That’s around half the time it takes a lithium-ion battery to reach the same level.
Because sodium is abundant and cheap, it has high commercial viability as future battery technology in the EV sector It could help offset the cost of graphene production, although graphene will remain expensive to produce for some time.
Graphene-enhanced lead-acid batteries
Lead-acid is the technology of choice for 12V car batteries because it’s resilient to extreme temperature changes and works well below sub-zero. It’s also the best technology for low-voltage electrical systems. However, lead-acid batteries don’t have a long shelf life, which is where the benefits of graphene can be realised.
According to Tianneng battery Group, their TNEH Series Deep Cycle Black Gold Battery has a 20% longer lifespan and a 5% increase in capacity over standard lead-acid batteries. It looks very promising as an alternative to lead-acid and lithium-ion 12V batteries, as well as other low voltage battery applications.
Another potential next-gen powerplant for electric vehicles is the graphene supercapacitor, which can charge and discharge in seconds. In 2019, Tesla bought Maxwell Technologies, a company at the leading edge of supercapacitors. This caused a huge stir in the EV world.
What is a supercapacitor? A supercapacitor is an energy storage unit that stores energy electrostatically within cells, rather than chemically as with lithium-ion. This means it can have a higher energy storage capacity than a regular battery.
Supercapacitors are flawed
However, supercapacitors have a fundamental flaw – they do not stay charged for long. This makes them unsuitable for use as an EV battery. Having said that, they are excellent at accepting and delivering sudden surges of energy, so supercapacitors are suited to delivering power to the electric motor.
Supercapacitors are the best energy delivery systems we have, and graphene is the best material to coat the metal plates because it has a huge surface area and superior strength to steel, composites and other conductors.
Benefits of supercapacitors include:
- High power density
- Wide operating temperature range
Drawbacks of supercapacitors include:
- Low energy density
- Higher cost (£/kWh)
Supercapacitors have potential as a future EV power source because they deliver quick bursts of energy and recharge in seconds. A supercapacitor can be paired with a graphene battery to enable greater efficiency across the powertrain.
Solid-state batteries use an electrolyte made out of solid material instead of the more common liquid electrolyte.
The terms solid-state battery and graphene battery are often used interchangeably, but solid-state graphene batteries (those that are predominantly graphene) have a semi-solid-state metallic material paired to graphene, creating a hybrid, a liquid material, or graphene-carbon nanotube electrodes.
The extent to which graphene EV batteries are solid-state depends on the approach to engineering and design.
For example, Factorial Energy’s solid-state battery has a solid electrolyte and high-voltage and high-capacity electrodes.
Solid-state batteries have potential
In electric vehicles, solid-state batteries have been a pipedream for years. However, they may soon be upon us. The company at the leading edge of the industry is VW-backed QuantumScape. They are developing a solid-state lithium-ion battery that promises to revolutionise EV batteries.
QuantumScape’s solid-state lithium-metal battery technology has several desirable features over lithium-ion batteries:
- Greater energy density (more capacity)
- Greater power density (faster charging)
- Longer lifespan (10-20 years)
- Safety (a non-combustible separator separates the anode and cathode)
QuantsumSpace recently released testing data for their 10-layer battery, achieving the milestones they set out for. The 10-layer cell is capable of at least 800 cycles with energy retention greater than 80% and 100% depth of discharge.
Lithium-metal solid-state batteries
For all graphene’s promise, the technology isn’t quite there yet. However, perhaps the next stage in battery EV technology isn’t graphene at all, but a lithium-metal solid-state battery like the one designed by Harvard researchers.
Harvard researchers have designed a battery that is solid-state and can be charged and discharged at least 10,000 times without degradation.
“Our research shows that the solid-state battery could be fundamentally different from the commercial liquid electrolyte lithium-ion battery,” said Xin Li, associate professor of materials science at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, “By studying their fundamental thermodynamics, we can unlock superior performance and harness their abundant opportunities.”
You can read the research paper on Nature.
The beauty of the lithium-metal solid-state battery is it can theoretically be used by EVs today with very few modifications. It has the potential to extend the life of EV batteries by 10 or 15 years, comparable to a petrol-powered car.
The all-graphene battery is a theoretical concept that can bridge the gap between supercapacitors (high power density, low energy density) and lithium solid-state batteries in a simpler, more elegant technology.
The all graphene battery was proposed in a research paper in 2014, published by Haegyeom Kim of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Jihyun Hong of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology.
Their battery concept has an energy density comparable to lithium-ion batteries and the performance of supercapacitors, blending the best of both worlds.
What is the most promising graphene battery technology?
Graphene aluminium-ion and graphene sodium-ion are the most promising successors to lithium-ion. Aluminium and sodium are far more abundant than lithium and much easier and cheaper to recycle.
What are the downsides of graphene EV batteries?
If graphene is so wondrous, why isn’t it everywhere? There are three hurdles:
- Graphene isn’t everywhere because it is extremely hard and exceedingly expensive to manufacture. In fact, the production cost per gram is £60-£100, making it more expensive than gold per gram!
- The manufacturing process isn’t mature enough for mass-production – it could take a decade to mass-produce graphene batteries for electric vehicles.
- Graphene can’t be switched off because it has no bandgap. This means there is no place where electrons can’t exist, so it is difficult to use in transistors. However, this engineering challenge can be overcome with an artificial bandgap.
The top 10 EV battery makers
Now we know about the future of EV batteries, who will make them?
The EV battery industry is dominated by ten big players and the top three control over 65% of it. The top 10 battery EV makers are as follows (source: IEEE):
|Contemporary Amperex Technology Co||26%|
|LG Energy Solution||26%|
|China Aviation Lithium Battery||3%|
|Ruipu Energy Co.||1%|
Bottom line: The Chinese, Japanese and Koreans control the battery market!
However, the manufacturers listed above dominate the lithium-ion market. The graphene market is another kettle of fish entirely!
The top graphene manufacturers
Graphene is manufactured as carbon nanotubes (rolled-up graphene) or as a powder. These two sectors are dominated by different players:
The world’s biggest producer of graphene nanotubes is OCSiAl with 97% of global production capacity. OCSiAl manufactures single-walled carbon nanotubes for commercial and research applications with a patented, mass-production technique.
The Canadian corporation NanoXplore is the world’s biggest producer of graphene powder for use in industrial markets and research, with 70% of the global production capacity. The second-biggest producer is the Australian company Talga Resource
Is Tesla making a graphene EV battery?
Just as Apple created the smartphone market with the iPhone, Tesla set the standard for EV design and manufacturing in the early 2010s. Today, Tesla is the best-known EV brand in the world, and they are also investing heavily in battery technology.
Tesla acquired battery start-up SiILion in November 2021, with SilLion’s anode technology to find its way into long-range Tesla models. The technology uses pure silicon anodes and high voltage cathodes, a unique combination in the industry.
In 2019, Tesla also acquired Maxwell Technologies Inc, a manufacturer of energy storage and power delivery solutions. However, they sold the company in July 2021 after plundering (and keeping) the dry cell technology.
Here’s what Elon Musk has to say about it on Twitter.
Are graphene EV batteries possible?
As we’ve seen in this article, graphene batteries are possible in both small and large applications like electric cars. However, they are not commercially available yet and there are multiple avenues of research.
Aluminium + graphene and sodium + graphene are possible future replacements for lithium-ion. A big benefit to both is the abundance of the core materials (aluminium, sodium) and their recyclability.
What is the future of the electric car battery?
The future of the electric car battery is graphene, which has the highest electrical conductivity of any known material. Graphene can be applied to various battery technologies, including lithium, sodium, and aluminium-based batteries.
While the future of EV batteries does not lie solely with graphene, it remains the most promising future technology, despite its downsides.
With research, clever engineering and significant investment, we think graphene EV batteries will displace lithium-ion eventually. However, what form these batteries take is up in the air – they could be lithium-based, sodium-based, solid-state or something else entirely. Whatever the case, the future is graphene in some form.
What do you think is the future of the electric car battery? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.