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 eco-friendly, carbon-neutral cell which charges 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 low-cost stock.

He said the business is the only one in the world that manufactures its own graphene – a nanomaterial made of a single layer of carbon atoms that is thin, strong and electrically efficient – and has been working on this technology for six years.

“There’s technology here that I think is going to really help with 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 Levingston.

“We need batteries of all different types to be able to control the fluctuations of electricity in the grid.

“Our battery we think will be very useful, as we will be able to charge our battery many times a day, whereas a lithium battery can only do it once.”

The rapidly increasing use of solar energy has been putting pressure on Australia’s aging power grid infrastructure as demand for conventional energy sources has declined over the past few months.

Energy Corporation of NSW board member Dr Alex Wonhas said there is a great need to invest more in technology such as batteries that can store energy produced by solar cells.

The possibilities of graphene batteries

Mr Nicol said their graphene battery is currently only on a laboratory production scale but there are many opportunities for their wider use in the future, with interest coming from drone and automotive applications.

“All different companies are looking for this kind of technology that we have,” he said.

“There are many possibilities, not just what we think batteries are useful for now.

“There is a good chance that this change will take hold and pass.”

Headshot of a smiling man with short brown hair, wearing a white shirt
Mr Nicol says 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 does not yet produce an AA battery but is working on a 2023 cell phone battery, which is used in remote controls and is safe for children.

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

“This will cost more and you can give this battery to your children in a will, it will last that long,” he said.

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

“It’s not like a lithium battery, which usually takes 500 cycles, and then it has to be replaced,” he said.

“Ours is like a hybrid supercapacitor battery, which can be charged thousands of times.

“These are really the best in the world because the last time anyone did anything on aluminum batteries was Stanford and ours is four times better than Stanford’s.”

Problems with lithium batteries

Mr Nicol said the lithium batteries found in mobile phones, toys and even cars were prone to defects and there were safety issues associated with them.

Electric power board with burnt material nearby
Mr Nicol says lithium batteries found in household appliances can be very unstable.(Provided by: Queensland Fire and Emergency Service)

“The aluminum atom used in our battery is more stable than the lithium atom, which is why lithium tends to have problems,” he said.

“It was well developed in phones, it was put in cars and now there are grid batteries, but it is a very unstable battery when it comes into contact with water or air.

“But we need lithium batteries like every other opportunity out there and we need them all at scale to make this transition work.”

Australia is a major exporter

Researcher from UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Dr Xiaodan Huang said graphene batteries were lighter, less flammable and less expensive and more stable than lithium batteries.

“Lithium is an expensive heavy metal because the prices of raw materials are high,” he said.

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

“We’re trying to offer a different option for customers to choose from as well as a unique technology in the Australian battery industry, because our batteries are sent to overseas companies.”

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

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

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

However, Dr Dubal said Australia has not really benefited from lithium battery exports due to its focus on only one part of the six-part battery value chain.

“We are not a major beneficiary of the lithium battery market as although Australia accounts for 50 per cent of the market share of lithium exports, we do not produce batteries ourselves,” he said.

“Australia only earns 0.53 percent of the total value of the chain.”

Dr Dubal predicted that in 10 years, Australia could be exporting both green lithium and graphene batteries.

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