Graphene could well be our answer to renewable energy storage. A great deal of interest surrounds this market as it is expected to grow from US$9 million (2012) to an estimated US$100 million (€73.5 million) market in 2018. Consultants calculate that China has taken out more than 2,200 patents on the material; the US more than 1,700 and South Korea, 1,200.
The EU’s support of graphene
Recognising its significant potential, The Graphene Flagship research initiative was established. It is described as the EU’s biggest research initiative. With a budget of EUR one billion, the Graphene Flagship is tasked with taking graphene from the laboratories into European society within ten years. This development is expected to generate economic growth, new jobs and new investment opportunities for Europeans. The research aims to explore the whole value chain-materials production to components and system integration.
The origin of graphene
Manchester is the birthplace of graphene. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselo first extracted the single-atom-thick crystallites of graphene from bulk graphite in 2004, at the city's university. Geim and Novoselo were awarded the Nobel prize in physics for their pioneering work.
The UK’s support of graphene
The UK government continues to support the research of graphene. The development of new energy storage devices that use graphene as a key component has just received a significant financial boost from the government. The Universities of Liverpool and Manchester received the £3.3 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) so that state-of-the-art facilities can be established in order to support the research in energy storage and advanced materials. The Liverpool-Manchester consortium has received the funds in order to establish an interdisciplinary centre of energy storage research. The centre has been created to support the transformation of batteries and super-capacitors into a viable option for wide-scale adoption in utility and grid applications.
The funding forms part of the Government’s strategy to invest in key technologies. Universities and Science Minister, David Willetts, says: "For Britain to get ahead in the global race we have to back emerging technologies and ensure our universities have the latest equipment. This capital investment will help scientists make new discoveries and take their research through to commercial success. It will drive growth and support the Government’s industrial strategy."
The latest graphene-based supercapacitor
A graphene-based supercapacitor, developed by Australian scientists, is able to extend the energy capacity of renewable technologies and portable electronic devices from smart phones to electric cars. In comparison to other supercapacitors, the device is compact and holds 10 times more energy.
Existing supercapacitors use highly porous carbon, impregnated with a liquid electrolyte. This gives them a low energy density-typically five to eight Watt-hours per litre. As a result, they need to be recharged often. This is why they have yet to replace batteries.
The new graphene-based supercapacitor has an energy density of around 60 Watt-hours per litre. This is similar to lead-acid car batteries. They are therefore smaller and lighter than existing supercapacitors. They also last longer than batteries because they store charge, rather than generating current through chemical reactions.
Developers say that the device will rather supplement than replace the battery altogether. The supercapacitor technology is more complementary to traditional batteries, working together to improve the performance of energy storage. Graphene material has yet to be manufactured in large quantities.