Graphene supercapacitors could make batteries obsolete

A battery can hold a lot of energy, but it takes a long time to charge it. A capacitor can be charged very quickly, but doesn't hold a comparable amount of energy.

A graphene supercharger is the best of both: it takes just seconds to charge, yet stores a lot of energy. Imagine being able to charge your spent laptop or phone battery in 30 seconds, and your electric car in a few minutes. Also, unlike batteries, Graphene supercapacitors are non-toxic.

The Nobel Prize was awarded to the inventors of Graphene in 2010. Wikipedia defines Graphene as a "substance composed of pure carbon, with atoms arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern similar to graphite, but in a one-atom thick sheet. It is very light, with a 1-square-meter sheet weighing only 0.77 milligrams."

(via Tony Moore at the Boing Boing G+ community)


    1. Look up anything about Graphene. No, it’s not Cold Fusion (which, BTW, is still under _very_ quiet research, to determine exactly what effect Ponds & Fleischmann actually discovered).

      1. I don’t think anyone needs to be quiet about researching what effect produced the results that Pons and Fleischmann reported. It’s just not particularly interesting to report that the main effect was self-deception, which is the explanation with the most evidence supporting it.
        Anyone quietly convinced that there *must have been* something new and exciting behind their results and setting out to find it is going about it the wrong way. First measure the effect and check that there even is one by replicating their experiments, and *then* try to understand the phenomenon by further experiments.  Many scientists have quite openly done the first part and there’s nothing there.Quiet research is crackpot research.

          1. I call bullshit on both of those. Link me an actual physics paper (peer-reviewed or even on that shows any success in this field.

            Just because the wishful-thinkers abandoned the phrase “cold fusion” and started using “low energy nuclear reaction”, doesn’t mean there’s a real phenomenon there deserving a name.
            Basically, press releases != evidence.

            I would LOVE to be proved wrong about this. Still waiting :(

    2. As someone who follows EV/Battery development, there have been a few companies (EEStor/Zenn motors) that have been talking about how they have supercapacitors that will just take the market over but they never deliver. 

      This graphene-based supercap has a long way to go before its possible to put one in a car. 

      1. I read a decent article of the DLR’s (Germany’s NASA if you will) research on the topic:
        1: They weren’t invented by GE
        2: They will almost but not quite reach the capacity/mass ratio of good rechargeable batteries
        3: That capacity will decrease if you design them to charge faster
        4: They aren’t ready for “real world” use yet: Temperature, moisture, external forces could be a problem, and methods for mass production aren’t yet developed to the point where anyone can start building a factory.

        What I took away from it: They won’t replace batteries but since they don’t loose capacity from charging/discharging cycles, they may very well serve as buffers for a few seconds to hours. So you can slow down a hybrid/electric car very quickly, store the energy in the capacitor, and what doesn’t go into accelerating right away is slowly fed to the battery. Depending on production costs, they might also serve as buffers in the electric grid one day.

        The weight issue also makes it questionable if they’d ever replace batteries in handheld devices. Would probably depend on the type of device.

        Ah, found it!
        …it’s German, though…

  1. Charge a mobile phone in 30 seconds? So a 1800mAH graphene capacitor charged in 30 seconds would need a current of 216 Amps. I think there may be some technical issues there.
    edit. Like how can you get the power in without melting everything. You’d need terminals the same size as on car batteries on your phone.
    To charge a 70kWH car battery in 5 mins that would be 840kW. Power way in excess of a domestic supply and cables so fat you could hardly lift them.

    1. How about this, for a vehicle, you could install a terminal in your garage that would do what cars already do, charge at non-peak time during the night, but the terminal would always be doing this and never leave the garage.  It could store the energy in a traditional battery pack, and when the car was brought in, it could rapid charge the cars graphene pack, or if the car was going to be in the garage overnight, it could bypass the charger’s battery pack and charge the car with traditional, slower methods.

      It is a layer of redundancy, but it would allow for a special immediate recharge feature.  Unfortunately, where a “rapid charge” would actually be useful, “gas stations,” the station would have to have massive battery capacity to “rapid charge” thousands of cars a day.  

      Who knows, maybe the gas stations of the future will be miniature cold fusion plants or be fed through wireless power ;)

      1. “It could store the energy in a traditional battery pack” I think you’d need a graphene super capacitor there as well, a traditional battery pack couldn’t produce the required amperage to quick charge the graphene back. Not sure a graphene super capacitor can actually charge slowly though.

      2. In general though don’t forget a “garage” must not be taken into account for any such consideration when we talk about global levels of acceptance. The overwhelming majority of people around the world (especially in big cities) do not have garages or at least garages they can fully control, so whatever we do, must be done without garages in mind.

    2. Or maybe you know, be realistic and even if the material is capable of taking a 216 amps for 30 seconds, perhaps instead we stretch it out to 10 minutes, and thus we only need a 10 amp connection.

      If I could fully recharge my cell phone from flat to full in 10 minutes? Yeah I’d consider that a win.At that point it’s just an issue of making the machinery that provides 10 amps of 120VAC (in North America for example) to DC as efficient and small as possible.

    3. I think the point to keep in mind is that a super capacitor can charge as fast as you can deliver electrons to it. If you’re limited to a 20 amp breaker, than feasibly you can charge your 1800mAH phone battery in about 5 minutes. That’s still really cool!

      edit: Aaron Bockelle beat me to it =)

    4. I think we overanalyze it when it might be very simple:

      Why exactly do we talk with the tiny connects of today in mind?

      What if the WHOLE BACK of the phone is just two humongous metalic connects.

      If they are thin enough they might add nothing.

    5. Your typical 1.8Ah battery has a voltage of just 1.2V. A capacitor would likely work on a higher voltage (to be precise: The voltage is dependent on the charge currently carried). Back to the battery: That’s 2,16 Wh. This means if you can deliver 2,16 Watts over one hour, the capacitor is charged. You may as well deliver 129.6 Watts for a minute.
      Doing this at 1.2 V is obviously (as you pointed out) infeasible, but the loading curve of a capacitor looks a bit different, and we can use higher voltages, so that should be completely okay (12V: 10.8 A. Still no small current but can be handled) .
      This means that we’d need a transformer of some sorts, but that would be needed anyway, since the voltage would vary over the discharge time.

      Also, I’d expect the supercaps to have lower maximum charge than the batteries replaced, because of weight issues, and because charging is much less of a pain than it is with batteries.

    6. For a car, that’s true. For a phone, you’re neglecting the voltage difference between the outlet and the battery.

      1800 mAh * 3.7V ~ 24 kJ

      24 kJ/30s = 800W

      800W at 120V AC ~7 amps

  2. Oh, is it that time already? I didn’t think this quarter’s announcement of what amazing things graphene can do was going to show up until April.

    Wake me when I can actually buy some of this badass technology.

  3. I wouldn’t trust anything coming from LiveLink. It’s a right wing propaganda site just trying to sponge hits with stuff like this.

    1. Fortunately the embed has been updated. Focus Forward and Cinelan put this short film online for free, several months ago. I can assure you it was not produced by anyone who could be remotely described as “right wing.” *lol*

  4. The folks on the Tesla forum have already given this a once-over. In short – incredible announcements like this are made every so often, except they never pan out (call us when it does). And even if we play devil’s advocate and say it’s real and around the corner, as many have pointed out you still need a way to feed the current to the battery that quickly, so you move from one bottleneck (battery charging speed) to another (wire/house/grid capacity).

    If this pans out (big if), it will end up being a modest, incremental improvement. Just like most every other bit of technological change.

    1. Well it’s really just like carbon nano tube everything.  It’s not that these wouldn’t work in theory, it is just the application to large scale production that always falls flat.

      I mean imagine if you could mass produce aerogel that could be used to insulate a home.  A single window would probably loose more thermal energy than every square inch of wall space.

      1. …except if you put aerogel into the windows as well. You know, it’s transparent :)
        Actually, that’s being done already, and windows (ceiling lights usually, they don’t need to be clear) with aerogel filling are already being used in buildings, and they’re working fine.
        I think mass-producing isn’t the problem here, it’s handling the stuff.

        I think many of these “break-through” technologies are delivered in tiny steps, with the first iteration being compromised by some implementation/production/real world problem, which is then sloooowly being eroded over time, which after ten or twenty years development gives us something that may be pretty close to the original promise, except that no-one remembers that.
        => Wait a few years for the first products to appear which will be either expensive or near-useless toys (or both), then wait another few years for properly useful developments, and then still another few for further improvements. Then compare to now.

        Remember mobile phones in the 80’s?

  5.  Or just use another large stationary graphene pack to charge the smaller portable ones.
    Having said that, this does reek of a ‘too good to be true’ story.

  6. I’m way less interested in charge time than I am in energy density.  We all have lots of time to charge things up while we are asleep – the question is whether they will get us through the day.

      1. OK, awesome.  Lightscribe.   Where the heck do you get graphite oxide, and how do you handle it without giving yourself lung cancer?

  7. Say you have an 85kWh car battery.  Charging that sucker in 10 minutes from empty would take over a megawatt (net of losses).  Let’s say you’ll do this charging at 240V to try and keep current manageable.  Let’s say your cable is 4 meters long and 0000 gauge (which is super fat) – 0.46 inch diameter   Density of copper is 8.94g/cm and specific heat capacity is 0.385J/g.  Resistivity is 1.68e-8 ohm-meters.

    10 minutes / (pi * 0.23in * 0.23in  * 4 m * 8.94 g/cm^3 * 0.385 J/g / ((1.68*10^-8 ohm meters * 4 m / (pi * 0.23in * 0.23in)) * (1 MW / 240V)^2)) = over 4,000 degree C rise of temperature in 10 minutes

    Your charge will end much faster than 10 minutes when your cable melts…

    If you use a MUCH fatter cable, at say 4cm diameter, then you’d still get a >30 degree temperature rise in 10 minutes, but your cable now weighs over 100 lbs, and would be quite hard to bend to fit it into your car’s charging port.

    1. Your physics is poor. From your numbers, current I = 2124 amperes, resistance R = 0.63 milliohms. This gives a power loss in the wire of a bit under 3kW. It will heat the room up somewhat, but it’s not particularly difficult engineering to dissipate that. Surround it in a water jacket and you get yourself a cup of tea as a bonus.

      Working: I = P/V = (E/(10*60))/240 = (85e3*3600)/(10*60)/240 = 2125 amperes

      R = rho * length/area= 1.68e-8 * 4 /(pi*((0.46*0.0254)/2)^2) = 6.3e-4

      Power loss = I^2 * R = 2830 watts

      Assuming all that goes into heating water, in 10 mins it’s enough energy to boil 5.5 litres from room temperature. That can come from a tap or a reservoir or wherever. It’s easy stuff.

  8. Ooops.. Off by factor of 2 on power requirement.  Only a ~1,000 degree rise in cable temp to charge 85kWh in 10 minutes.  I was using 5 minutes originally in my calculations…

    10 minutes / ((pi * 0.23in * 0.23in * 4 m * 8.94 g/cm^3 * 0.385 J/g / ((1.68*10^-8 ohm meters * 4 m / (pi * 0.23in * 0.23in)) * ((85 kWh / 10 minutes) / 240V)^2))) = 1150

    Still problematic.

    1. If the charger is UNDER the car and the car is positioned correctly, the interface rises up to meet the female receptacle and the charge begins.  Since it’s under the car, you won’t be able to touch it, and various cooling mechanisms can keep the thing decently cool.  I am imagining a 6″ fat copper cylinder that fists, errr, mates with the car.

    2. By my calculations, it would appear you could fully charge an 85kWh battery in about 1-3/4 hrs on a 200 amp service, which seems reasonable for an average household to me. Surely a long shot from “a few minutes”, but not bad.
      What would be cool to see is street side or parking lot charging spots that have a pay meter connected to them. These could even be more robust in terms of capacity to further reduce charging time. Put these in restaurant or coffee shop parking lots and take a little break while your car recharges.

  9. When I consider it’s about a materials breakthrough made by the use of scotch tape, that has been improved by use of a DVD drive, I think the most fitting soundtrack for this video would be the MacGyver theme.

    Hopefully we will see independent verification on the claims in the video, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

  10. So another thing that will never see the light? Or bought and buried by big companies. Do your research and then release it to the public if you want it to change the world (and don’t want to be murdered) 

  11. What does catastrophic failure look like with one of these things?  Like if it is fully charged when your car catches fire?

    1. You touch upon the missing part of all of these breakthrough discoveries.  Making thinner capacitor electrodes is only a piece of the puzzle.  And if they are imperfect, oh well.  They still hold and move electrons.  It’s making thinner dielectric insulators that is key. 

      Capacitance increases as the insulating gap decreases (conductor thickness doesn’t factor in).  So there’s serous benefit to making the insulation as thin as possible.  But as insulators get thinner, they are more susceptible to flaws.  And one teeny, tiny hole anywhere in the capacitor spells doom.

      Make that BOOM!

      1. Not quite. having a hole in you dielectric will make it short-circuit when trying to charge. You _should_ have a safeguard against that in the charger.

        What happens in case of an accident when a fully loaded supercap is exposed to the environment… that’s  a different question :(

  12. This is really below BoingBoing’s usual standards. Attention grabbing headline, flawed attribution and ultimately nearly devoid of any actual information.

    It’s not as if the *idea* of these things is particularly new…  so what is the actual news here?

    Perhaps a brief perusal of actual scholarly articles and a survey of the current state of practical production would be interesting. The video here is just cheerleading for something everyone already wants and everyone who’s attentive to the energy or tech industries is already well aware of.

    Step it up, BB.

    1. I at least give them credit for updating the video to the official version provided online by its creators, though I’m not sure why anyone would post from LiveLeak when something has opening credits you can easily punch into Google to find the real thing.

  13. The only thing I know about capacitors is it’s really, really dangerous for people to touch one. Assuming this is not vaporware, does anyone know how the thing could be made safe?

    1. The same is true of “touching” the contacts on any powerful battery. The battery pack in any modern hybrid or EV could kill you, if you managed to “touch” it the wrong way. So could any one of a dozen things in your kitchen. Capacitors are not, inherently, an unreasonable danger (unless you remove one from inside some safely designed device and decide to lick it).

      1. And also – licking it would burn your tongue, but likely not kill you.  Touching the terminals with different hands, so that the  path of least resistance passed through your chest… THAT very well might do the trick.

  14. I read about this ten years ago.  Is it still no closer to fruition?

    This might be great technology – but is it any more useful than inductively charging our highways?

  15. Thank you for updating the embed from LiveLeak to one of the official releases of the film! It was weird to see boingboing promoting an unofficial copy of something whose creators chose a high quality, DRM free, free-of-charge distribution model.

  16. The video poses an interesting consumer-level application, and will probably have real opportunity in device components, perhaps within the power relays of a wind turbine…but if you want to get really serious about energy storage, think big, really big.
    Consider this – a deteriorating atom doesn’t care whether we’re awake and using electricity, or asleep and not…instead of slapping in more control rods to waste that energy potential while we sleep, we could be using that night-time electricity to fill new mountain reservoirs or massive pressurized air tanks. While we’re at it, we could unlock the fuel in our useless warheads into producing useful megawatts. Since we’ve already built the damn reactors, we might as well squeeze ever last bit of usefulness out of them before the next 15,000 years of managed retirement.

  17. Lithium ion battery specific energy density range is currently 100 to 250 W-h/kg.  High discharge rate batteries and those with greater charge-discharge cycle lives are typically on the low end of the range.  These are batteries you can buy today.  (And gasoline is about 60 times the energy density of that, for a little perspective.)

    Super capacitors are currently in the range of 5 W-h/kg, with some experimental graphene based devices are up to 60 W-h/kg.  Very nice, but a long way to go if you don’t want half your car to be capacitor.

    Also, they have a very high self-discharge rate, so the energy will basically get converted to waste heat if you don’t use your device.  Batteries can hold a charge for years.

    Plus, and this is especially bad for things like cars, the voltage is reduced parabolically if you draw constant power from the battery, so to fully utilize the charge, your electronics have to operate over a wide voltage range.  

    So let’s say you have a 100 volt capacitor (which is already difficult, as each capacitor can only handle two or three volts, so you’ll need many of them in series, so the charging and discharging circuit has to monitor and maintain safe voltages on each individual capacitor, and ensure they don’t get reverse voltage, else they are irreparably damaged …)

    So if you’re drawing 10 kW from your capacitor when it is at 100 volts, that’s 100 amps, but by the time it’s discharged to 50 volts, you’ve doubled the current.  And if you want to squeeze most of the energy out and discharge it to 10 volts, that’s 1000 amps your electronics have to deal with.
    All that said, super-capacitors are cool, and I hope they find their niche in the energy storage world.

  18. Alot of this stuff never pans out because the patents get bought up by big companies looking to protect their markets. No conspiracy, just business. Happens all the time. and if guys won’t sell or stop then bad things may happen, again just business as usual. Check out the book Fire from Ice by Mallove, it is about Cold Fusion.

    Also check out this guy Eric Dollard. He is the new Tesla. Some guy went out to see him in the desert. He was penniless after losing his lab and the guy made some videos and now everyones talking about this guy. He has books and videos doing Tesla’s real stuff!

  19. After charging for two or three seconds, he ran this light for over five minutes.


  20. To me what is appealing here is not the reduced charge time, but the possibility of a way of storing energy with a common, non-toxic material that won’t involve imposing another insane, toxic, boom and bust mining operation on some other corner of the world for the latest thing that we are going to throw away after a few days or months of use.  charge time i can deal with. the non-toxic thing is what seems to good to be true for me.  I’ll believe it when I grow tasty carrots from the poop worms make after they eat it.

  21. Disclaimer: I’m not an electrical engineer.  But this is how I understand the problem with a capacitor, and the reason it’s tough to use it to replace a battery.

    A capacitor’s voltage falls as it discharges, much more rapidly than a battery’s does. So whatever it’s powering has to be able to run on a very wide range of voltages.  This increases the complexity of the device’s circuitry. 

    To maintain a given power in watts, the lower the voltage, the higher the current has to be.  This means big, expensive power semiconductors, or you severely limit how far you discharge the cap before giving up, or both.

    This is the reason that supercaps (or ultracaps, I can never remember what the difference is) aren’t likely to replace the batteries in an electric vehicle any time soon. 

    They work for the liquid-fuel-only mild hybrids, where they don’t really need to store much energy.  They can also provide a nice boost for acceleration in a battery EV, leveling out the load on the battery so it lasts longer and may even give more range.  But then you’re into cost issues.

    Bottom line: don’t hold your breath.

  22. Using a supercapacitor for storage seems foolish to me. Rather, if these gets to production, it is more likely for bursts of power. Then you can design a supercap that provides high power and a battery pack/fuel cell/ engine/ whatever that is designed for maximum energy density and output efficiency. A car may need a maximum power output of 100kW or whatever, but on average on the highway may draw just 10kW.

  23. Oil/petroleum is carbon based, but you don’t put that in your compost. Nevertheless, this stuff would be great, especially if it could be used for electric cars. What about the capacity per gramme? How much would a graphene car battery weigh if you want a car to be able to drive, say, 300 miled on one load?

  24. A car battery could be like a cartridge that is lifted out of your car and placed in the rapid charger at the garage, then placed back into the car, then there’s no heavy hi amp cables to worry about.

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