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EXPLAINED: Samsung's fast-charging graphene-enhanced batteries

Joseph Flaig

Artist's impression of a sheet of graphene (Credit: iStock)
Artist's impression of a sheet of graphene (Credit: iStock)

News of graphene-enhanced batteries from Samsung researchers has flooded the web with hyped-up stories hailing the future of electricity storage.

The researchers claimed an impressive capacity increase and faster charging times, and some say the new technique could change batteries forever.

But what is the truth beneath the hype, and what impact could the work have?

What is it?

A team of researchers at the Samsung Advanced Institute of technology (Sait) found a way to create 3D, “popcorn-like” balls out of 2D, one-atom-thick graphene. Using affordable silica, the South Korea team made tiny spheres with diameters of roughly 10µm (1,000 times smaller than a centimetre).

The researchers applied the graphene balls to the anode protective layer and cathode materials in lithium-ion batteries, the standard rechargeable cells used widely in mobile devices since the 1990s.

Why the hype?

Since its isolation in 2004, scientists have celebrated graphene for its phenomenal strength and conductivity. When applied to the batteries, the Samsung team said the results were extraordinary: they found a 45% increase in capacity and charging speeds were five times faster.

Samsung said batteries using the graphene balls could theoretically fully charge in only 12 minutes, compared to about one hour for lithium-ion batteries. They also said the batteries remain stable at high temperatures of 60oC, higher than standard lithium-ion batteries which can only be fast-charged up to about 45oC.

The increased energy efficiency also offers the tantalising possibility of smaller, slimmer batteries – and therefore smaller, slimmer phones.

Is this just useful for phones?

Not at all. While fast charging might help forgetful smart phone owners quickly charge up before work in the morning, increased capacity, faster charging, smaller cells and stable operation at high temperatures could be another major stepping stone towards mass adoption of electric cars. Bigger and better energy storage at home could also play a key part in new decentralised energy systems.

Samsung, which has filed patent applications for the graphene ball technology in the US and South Korea, is committed to “continuously explore and develop” the technology as the mobile and electric vehicle markets grow, said project leader Son In-hyuk.

When could we start using them?

Despite the promising results, it might be best not to hold your breath for now – as with all stories hailing impressive-sounding battery advances.

“The technology readiness level is still at the proof-of-concept to demonstrator stage,” said Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, director at research company IDTechEx, to the Financial Times. “We often read about remarkable graphene-based results at these stages but only a few translate into commercial success stories.”

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily reflect the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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