Brisbane battery company using UQ technology offers solution to storing solar energy to power homes

A Brisbane company believes it can change the face of Australia’s energy landscape with an environmentally friendly, carbon neutral cell. recharges 70 times faster than a lithium-ion battery and can be reused thousands of times.

Graphene Manufacturing Group founder and managing director Craig Nicol said the company’s graphene aluminum ion battery is a world-leading piece of technology developed by the University of Queensland (UQ).

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Graphene Manufacturing Group has developed its own manufacturing process to produce graphene powder from readily available, inexpensive raw materials.

He says the business is the only company in the world to make its own graphene – a nanomaterial made up of a single layer of carbon atoms that is thin, strong and conducts electricity perfectly – and has been working on the technology for six years.

“There’s technology here that I think will really help the energy transition, so the Queensland government coming out and saying ‘We want to move forward’ is a big step forward,” he told ABC radio’s Rebecca Levingstone.

“We need different types of batteries to be able to handle the large fluctuations in grid power.

“We think our battery will be a big help because we can charge the battery several times a day, whereas a lithium battery can only do that once.”

The rapid deployment of solar power is putting pressure on Australia’s aging power grid infrastructure as demand for traditional power sources has plummeted in the past few months.

Energy Corporation of NSW board member Dr Alex Vonhas said more investment is needed in technology such as batteries that can store the energy produced by solar panels.

Features of graphene batteries

Mr Nicol said their graphene battery is currently only at the scale of laboratory production, but there are many possibilities for their wider use in the future, with interest in unmanned applications and vehicles.

“All different companies want this type of technology that we have,” he said.

“The possibilities are vast, except that batteries are not considered useful at the moment, as we thought.

“There’s a lot of potential if this transition is really accepted and passed.”

Headshot of a smiling man in a white shirt with short brown hair
According to Mr Nicol, the graphene battery is 70 times faster than a lithium battery and can be recharged thousands of times.(Provided by: Craig Nicol )

Mr. Nicol said the company has not yet developed an AA battery, but is working on a 2023 coin-cell battery that is used in remote controls and is safe for children.

“We’ve done tests and we don’t think our battery will have any safety issues.

“These will also be cost-effective and you can gift this battery to your children as you wish, it will last longer,” he said.

Mr Nicol also said graphene batteries were the future and could be charged and used thousands of times.

“It’s not like a lithium battery that typically gets 500 cycles and then needs to be replaced,” he said.

“Ours is like a hybrid supercapacitor battery that can be recharged thousands of times.

“It’s really a world leader because the last time anyone did aluminum batteries was Stanford, and ours is four times better than Stanford’s.”

Problems with lithium batteries

Mr Nicoll said lithium batteries, found in mobile phones, toys and even cars, were often faulty and had safety concerns.

An electrical panel with charred material nearby
Mr Nicol says lithium batteries in household items can be very unstable.(Supplied by: Queensland Fire and Emergency Service)

“The aluminum atom that we used in our battery is much more stable than the lithium atom, so lithium often has problems,” he said.

“It’s effectively built into everything from phones to cars and now some grid cells, but it’s a very unstable battery when it’s in contact with water or air.

“But we need lithium batteries as much as any other capability, and we need all of them to make this transition happen.”

Australia is a major exporter

Dr Xiaodong Huang, a research fellow at UQ’s Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said graphene batteries are lightweight, non-flammable and much cheaper and more stable than lithium batteries.

“Lithium is a heavy metal, it is expensive because the price of raw materials is high,” he said.

“Australia is a rich resource of graphene, aluminum and natural gas, which are affordable and easy to recycle.

“We’re trying to give customers another option to choose from as an alternative and specialist technology for the Australian battery industry as our batteries are imported from overseas companies.”

Queensland University of Technology’s Center for Materials Science Deepak Dubal said Australia was one of the world’s largest suppliers of the minerals used in both lithium batteries.

“Australia is the world’s largest supplier of lithium and the second largest supplier of cobalt,” he said.

A man in a white lab coat holding a jar with a yellow lid.
Queensland industry is trying to offer an alternative to lithium batteries.(Provided by: University of Queensland )

However, Dr Dubal says Australia has not really benefited from lithium exports in batteries because it has only focused on one segment of the six-segment battery value chain.

“We’re not the biggest beneficiary in the lithium battery market because even though Australia accounts for 50 percent of the lithium export market, we don’t produce the batteries ourselves,” he said.

“Australia only uses 0.53 per cent of the total value chain.”

Dr Dubal predicted Australia could be exporting raw lithium and graphene batteries in 10 years.

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