By on Oct 12, 2016 in Technology

Currently, one of the greatest potential growth area in the technology industry, as well as one of the most neglected thus far, is battery life. Some improvements were made—we’ve seen the battery capacity increased and we’ve witnessed the apparition of new ways of charging batteries faster, but they still take a while to shutterstock_344550650charge and are not exactly environmentally friendly.

But things don’t stop here. A new solution seems to have appeared on the horizon, one made possible by a radical material shift. Scientists at the Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, have developed a new battery (well, technically speaking it’s a supercapacitor, we’ll develop more on this later), made from 3D printed graphene, which is said to hold a larger charge of energy, is recharged in only a matter of seconds and will last a lifetime.

Take for instance the Pokémon Go app, it drains smartphones so fast that companies, aware of the power of this new app, are now marketing their products by hosting events where they give external batteries to players who present their devices showing under 10 percent battery life left. Initially, many place the blame on the app, but in fact, the problem is not in the app, but in the lithium batteries that can only take a very limited charge.

Currently, the dominating energy storage device is the lithium-ion battery. These power nearly every portable electronic device, as well as almost every electrical car. Batteries store energy electrochemically, where chemical reactions release electrical carriers that can be extracted into a circuit. The supercapacitor uses a different storage mechanism—energy is stored electrostatically on the surface of the material, without involving chemical reactions. Given their fundamental mechanism, supercapacitors can be charged quickly, leading to a very high power density, and do not lose their storage capabilities over time.

While it’s true that batteries and supercapacitors are different, both energy-holding vessels suffer from the same drawbacks. Aside from the limited charge they can hold, both take plenty of time to charge, while regular use significantly limits their lifespan. It’s common knowledge these days that batteries lose their juice after a few years—this causing another major problem, an environmental one, as these are expensive to dispose of.

Graphene seems to be a super solution. Graphene is basically a form or carbon, just like diamonds and the lead in pencils. Yet, unlike like most forms of carbon, graphene isn’t a type of 3D shape, but a 2D material that consists of a hexagonal sheet only a single atom thick. Moreover, its properties are extremely interesting: it’s very light and flexible, extremely durable (about a hundred times stronger than steel) and a very efficient conductor of heat and electricity. In case you are wondering, no, graphene didn’t just get discovered yesterday, its theoretical existence has been discussed for decades, but it was only first successfully produced in 2004, and ever since, manufacturers have shown great interest in it.

Recently, researchers have been extensively experimenting with 3D printable forms of graphene, seen as one of the strongest materials in the world. This latest battery innovation by Swinburne’s researchers, led by Han Lin, is the most impressive of all. Their supercapacitor is highly efficient—it charges in a matter of seconds and holds a larger charge because it’s formed of multiple sheets of graphene, thus creating a much larger surface area to store energy on. More so, charging and discharging won’t degrade a battery’s quality, so they can, theoretically, last for a lifetime—a unique property in the battery industry. These astounding supercapacitors were first presented at Fresh Science Victoria 2016, earlier this year.

Perhaps one of the most interesting properties of the supercapacitors is affordability. Even though graphene has caught the attention of manufacturers for years, it was always considered too expensive to produce these sheets of the carbon material. Yet, 3D printing significantly reduces the production costs, while the long lifespans of the batteries contribute to lowering the total costs.

The honeycomb graphene sheets are also very strong and flexible, thus it can be used to develop very flexible and thin batteries that could be built into wearable clothing and other personal accessories. Putting together all of graphene’s amazing properties, one thing is clear: batteries will never be the same again.