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

The Brisbane company believes it can change the face of Australian energy with an eco-friendly, carbon-neutral cell. which is 70 times faster than a lithium ion battery and can be returned millions of times.

Founder and director of the Graphene Manufacturing Group, Craig Nicole, said the company’s graphene aluminum ion battery was a world-first technology developed by the University of Queensland (UQ).

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Graphene Manufacturing Group has developed a proprietary production process to manufacture Graphene powder from readily available cheap feedstock.

The business said it was the only one in the world making its own graphene – a nanomaterial made from single atoms of carbon that is thin, strong and an excellent conductor of electricity – and had been working on the technology for six years.

“This is a technique that I think can really help the energy transition, and so the Queen’s leadership coming out and saying, ‘We don’t want to go forward’ is a huge step,” said ABC Radio Rebecca Levingston.

“We need batteries of all different types so that we can control the mass fluctuations in the electricity in the grid.

“We think our battery will be a huge help, since we will be able to charge it several times a day, whereas a lithium battery can only do it once.”

The rapidly increasing use of solar energy has put pressure on Australia’s aging energy infrastructure with demand for traditional power plummeting in recent months.

Energy Corporation of NSW board member Dr Alex Wonhas said there was an urgent need for investment in technology rather than batteries that could store energy generated from solar cells.

Opportunities for graphene batteries

Mr. Nicholas said that his graphene battery would only work on a laboratory-scale production, but there were many opportunities for wider use in the future, with use from drone applications and vehicles.

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

“The opportunities are great, and batteries are not as useful now as we think they are.”

“There is only so much potential if this transition actually takes hold and goes through.”

A smiling head of a 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 charged thousands of times.(Provided by: Craig Nicol )

Mr Nicol said the company had not made the AA battery but was still working on a battery of 2023 coin cells, which were used in remote controls and were safe for kids.

“We’ve done the tests and we don’t think we’re going to have any health issues with our batteries.

“These will also be free of charge to you and you could give this fight to your kids in a will, which will last a long time,” he said.

Mr. Nicholas also said that the graphene battery would be able to be charged and used thousands of times.

“It’s not like a lithium battery, which typically gets 100 cycles and then needs to be replaced,” he said.

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

“These are truly world-leading like the last time anyone did anything on Stanford aluminum batteries and ours is four times better than Stanford.”

Lithium battery issues

Teacher Nicole said lithium batteries in mobile phones, toys and even cars have often had defects and associated safety issues with them.

Electrical power board with burnt material nearby
Teacher Nicole says lithium batteries found in furniture can be very unstable.(Supplied by: Queensland Fire and Emergency Service)

“The aluminum atom that our battery uses is much more stable than the lithium atom and that’s why lithium often has problems,” he said.

“Effectively built from phones in cars and now it needs a grid battery, but the battery is very unstable when it comes into contact with water or air.

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

Australia’s largest exporter

Research associate from UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Dr Xiaodan Huang said graphene batteries are lightweight, non-flammable and much less expensive and more sustainable than lithium batteries.

“Lithium is a heavy metal that is expensive because raw material prices are high,” he said.

“Australia is rich in graphene, aluminum and natural gas, which are more affordable and easier to recycle.”

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

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

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

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

However, Dr Dubal said Australia does not really benefit from the export of lithium in batteries because it is only in one segment within the six-segment battery value chain.

“We are not the biggest beneficiary in the lithium market as Australia accounts for 50 percent of the market share for lithium exports, we do not produce batteries ourselves,” he said.

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

Dr Dubal predicted that Australia would be able to export both raw lithium and graphene batteries within 10 years.

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