This is a small article I wrote for our office newsletter. Major implications for portable Amateur Radio equipment and emergency communications.
Batteries. They have become a huge part of our everyday lives. Think of how many devices we use that need to be recharged regularly. Cell Phones, iPads, laptops, digital cameras, cordless vacuums, electric razors, and now cars too. Tesla and other pioneers in the electric car industry are slowly moving toward technology that resolves a lot of the capacity issues in their devices, with some models now reaching a 300 mile range. The iPhone has become another great example of what engineering can do for battery capacity, with newer models able to go for a day or more between charges with normal use. Capacity is no longer the issue it once was. Charging time is now what’s holding battery technology back in applications like cars, industrial machinery, and tools. Even using one of the Tesla Superchargers takes about 30 minutes to charge a Tesla S to 50 percent capacity, and most cell phones still take an hour or more for a full charge.
The answer to this problem may lie in a substance called graphene. Graphene was invented in 2010 at the University of Manchester, UK. The two scientists who came up with the process were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Graphene is a single layer of carbon, forming a thin sheet, one molecular layer thick, and has amazing properties both physically and electrically. Graphene is extremely conductive, and shows promise in the field of electronics, helping to create faster and smaller semi-conductors, as well as many other practical uses.
The original method to create graphene is extremely low-tech, and not very practical. The Scientists at the University of Manchester were able to pull a single layer of carbon molecules off of a piece of graphite by using Scotch Tape. This proves to be impractical on a large scale though, and a new method was needed. Last year at UCLA, researchers found a way to make graphene out of graphite oxide dispersed in water using low powered lasers. The lasers they used however, were the ones in an ordinary DVD burner. By coating a DVD with graphite oxide, and burning it on the label side using LiteScribe technology, they were able to create sheets of graphene, opening the door to a cheap method of creating this substance.
The real surprise came when one of the researchers attached a square of graphene to a light bulb, and managed to keep it lit for 5 minutes, after a charge time of only a few seconds. What they had stumbled on, was a new way of creating something called a super capacitor. Capacitors store electricity like batteries do, but charge and discharge rapidly, sometimes many times a second. A super capacitor combines the properties of both a battery and a capacitor, giving us a component that can charge rapidly, but behave like a battery once charged.
Thanks to the new method of creating graphene, this technology is closer to reality than most. Imagine being able to recharge device in seconds instead of minutes or hours. The possibilities this brings to the computer and auto industries are fantastic. It also opens up the idea of cordless, rechargeable devices to a host of new industries. Keep an eye on this, as it is going to change the way we look at portable devices, and energy storage.