Tag: batteries

FINALLY! A Graphene Battery That Could Change Everything

We’ve been hearing about the potential of graphene for decades, and yet very few of the big promises have come to pass. But a new aluminum graphene battery design is coming out this year that could charge a phone in less than a minute, and it may be the future of energy storage.


This is a paperclip. The average paperclip weighs about a gram. And it’s made out of steel, which is electrically conductive. So you don’t want to stick one in a light plug.This is a paperclip. The average paperclip weighs about a gram. And it’s made out of steel, which is electrically conductive. So you don’t want to stick one in a light plug.
Materials are electrically conductive because electrons move freely across its surface. The more surface area, the more electrons it can hold.
A paperclip obviously doesn’t have a lot of surface area, if you pounded it as flat as possible, you can imagine getting maybe a square foot of surface area? Maybe?
Then there’s graphene. You’ve probably heard graphene described as a wonder material that’s going to change the world, well here’s one of the reasons why. It’s literally only one atom thick.
So if you folded up one gram of graphene, it would have the same surface area… of not one… not two… But TEN tennis courts.
That’s a lot of electrons. And a lot of potential.

Mo Li-ion, Mo Problems

Saying the words “lithium-ion” before “battery” is practically redundant these days. I mean, let’s face it, lithium ion won, these are the batteries that run our cell phones, tablets, computers, even our cars. We are officially a world run by lithium ion.
You might say they have the li-ion’s share of the market. (shit-eating grin)
But Lithium-ion batteries aren’t perfect. I mean, they’re Goodenough (Picture of John B Goodenough; smirk)… But they have their downsides
Are all my puns giving you a… charge? I’ll stop.

Safety Concerns

One problem we continue to have with lithium ion is safety.
These batteries run hot. And yes, if not properly configured, they can burst into flame. You might remember in 2016, 2.5 million smart phones were recalled after some of them burst into flames in peoples’ pockets and bags.
Don’t get me wrong, they’ve gotten safer over the years, but it comes with a cost.
EV batteries for example have extensive cooling systems woven into them to keep their temperatures at optimal levels.
This not only complicates the design and makes it more expensive, the cooling systems take up space that could be used storing energy, which lowers the pack density.
And don’t get me going on how much it complicates recycling these batteries, (get more frantic) they’ve gotta break it all apart and there’s all this gel that has to be separated from the recyclable metals which is super important because — Yep, you did it, you got me going now…

Ethics and Recycling

Battery recycling is super important because the materials in the batteries are not easy to come by.
For example I did a whole video on the cobalt problem in lithium ion batteries, how a lot of it comes from artisanal mines in the Congo that exploit child labor in really dangerous conditions.
A lot of work has been done to source cobalt more ethically, and battery makers are cutting down on the use of cobalt but it’s still an issue.

The point being, these batteries do have a finite life cycle and we need to be able to recycle them, but for all the reasons I just pointed out, it’s still far more expensive to recycle lithium ion batteries than just build new ones.
In fact when I looked, I could only find that 10% of lithium-ion batteries get recycled. To be fair this was from an article in 2016 so hopefully it’s gotten better since then?

Daily Hassles

And all of these issues are on top of the fact that… well… They have a lot of room for improvement.
Look, let’s be fair, the reason they won out is because they were leaps and bounds above the options we had before, but still, 2 hours to charge your phone? What is this, the stone age?
It’s not the stone age, it’s the phone age! Yeah, I know…

The Promise of Graphene

So researchers around the world are working on the next big thing in energy storage, there’s like half a million new battery chemistries being worked on, I’ve covered most of them already.
But the battery I want to talk about today is different because it does its magic using graphene, (get worked up) and let me tell you something, when I hear about a new technology that uses graphene…  I… don’t know how to feel about it.
Because we’ve been hearing about how graphene is going to change the world for SOOO LOOOOONG, it’s really starting to feel like a football we just can’t kick.

Like the potential of graphene is off the charts, it could potentially revolutionize everything from construction materials, semiconductors, clothing, even make a space elevator possible.
So much potential and yet…

Graphene is like that gifted kid that was always told they had so much potential but just… never learned how to apply themselves or didn’t believe in themselves enough to execute on that potential so they just kinda flounder around on the internet, eventually becoming a mid-tier content creator in his forties…

But hey, producing graphene is hard. Which is what makes this battery interesting, the company who designed it is a graphene manufacturer.
So not only are they some of the biggest experts in the world on graphene, they make it in-house so they don’t have to pay retail for it, making the batteries cheaper to make.
Now, before I get into the battery itself, let’s back up a second and talk about why graphene has these wonder properties to it in the first place – it’s kind-of important to the rest of it.
Graphene is basically carbon, which makes up about 12% of your body. So you’re familiar with it.
But unlike the carbon in your body, in graphene, carbon atoms are arranged in a honeycomb pattern literally one atom thick, and this is where it gets its crazy properties.
The bonds in this pattern give graphene more than four times the tensile strength of steel while being extremely flexible and light.
It also makes it an excellent conductor of electricity and heat. Good things to have in a battery, but even better things to have in a supercapacitor.

Supercapacitor Basics

So, capacitors are devices that store energy, similar to batteries, except instead of storing the energy in chemical reactions, they store it on the surface of electrodes.
This means they can be charged extremely quickly, because they don’t have to rely on chemical reactions to store the energy.
The downside is energy density. As in, they don’t have much of it.
The energy density of a typical capacitor is about one-third of a Watt-hour per kilogram
For comparison, a one kilogram lithium-ion battery can store hundreds of Watt-hours

The Graphene-Aluminum Hybrid

So the trick to getting a capacitor to increase its energy density is to increase the surface area of the electrodes, and for that, you need an extremely thin and flexible material that is electrically conductive and manages heat really well that you can fold up into a tiny space.
Hence, graphene.
Here’s how bonkers graphene is. One gram of graphene has a surface area of 2629 square meters. That’s roughly the same as 10 tennis courts.
I’ve been talking about capacitors here, supercapacitors are obviously capacitors that have been turned up to eleven. And then there’s ultracapacitors, which are turned up to… (confused) more than eleven.
But even a massively upsized supercapacitor can’t compete with the energy density of an advanced chemical batteryWhich is why researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have developed a graphene-based, supercapacitor/battery hybrid.

The battery part uses aluminum, so it’s generally referred to as a graphene-aluminum battery– earlier research that gives problems with graphene that maybe UQ has solved NOTE: this is where my comprehension ran out, so I contacted GMG to ask if they can clarify the benefit
Now, I would love to go into the details of the design and how it works but a lot of it is proprietary and what I did find went way over my head but I can say that it involves embedding aluminum ions into perforations in the graphene mesh.
This creates a graphene-aluminum layer that acts as the cathode, with an anode of just plain aluminum foil.
The battery as a whole has an energy density of 150-160 Watt hours per kilogram, and it can still charge extremely fast.

Cell vs Pack Density

Sounds great, but Tesla’s new 4680 battery cell is closer to 265 Wh/kg. So there’s definitely still a gap there. BUT… it might not be as big of a gap as you’d think.
Because that’s cell density. You also have to think about pack density.
Like I was saying before, lithium ion batteries have to have massive cooling systems built in to their battery packs to keep it from overheating. This battery wouldn’t have that issue.
So all that extra space could be taken up by energy-storing batteries. It might not put it even with a Tesla pack, but it does close the gap a bit.
So the University of Queensland developed the battery, but I mentioned before that a graphene manufacturer was producing it, that company is called the Graphene Manufacturing Group, or GMG.

They’ve built a prototype that can reportedly charge 60 times faster than lithium-ion.
So while their battery pack might not take an EV quite as far, charging would be a lot closer to the experience of filling up at the gas pump, which could open up EVs to more people who don’t have access to home chargers today.
Of course I’m spending all this time talking about EVs, it would be just as world changing for everything else we use; our phones, our watches, our computers… You could plug in your laptop while you take a leak and it’ll be fully charged by the time you’re done.
Also keep in mind everything I’m talking about here applies to their prototype battery. It’s still the very early days of this technology.
In a presentation back in March to The Graphene Council, Founder and CEO Craig Nicol said the energy density of the battery has a theoretical upper limit of 1050 Wh/kg, and that their team is currently testing 300,000 variations on the battery’s design in pursuit of better performance.

Prototypes and Further Advantages

I can only imagine that AI is involved in that in some way, but those tests are happening at a pilot plant the company opened in December 2021.
And here’s where it does get kinda exciting – they are actually producing batteries at this plant. Right now.
They’ve started manufacturing coin batteries, which are being shipped to customers for testing and feedback, and they plan to begin manufacturing pouch pack batteries by the end of June 2022.
Pouch pack batteries are housed in a polymer bag instead of a solid case, but these are the kind of batteries that you see in phones and tablets and other small electronics.

Although, there are some EVs that run on pouch pack batteries, including the Chevy Bolt.
Not for nothing but late last year, Chevy issued a $1.8 billion recall of the bolt over issues that their batteries were catching on fire. This wouldn’t have that problem.
And as if all that wasn’t enough to give you a tech nerd stiffy, there’s also the fact that the batteries are fully recyclable and made from abundant, easy to source materials. So what’s the catch?

Isn’t Graphene Expensive?

As Rocky Balboa once said, life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. Of course there’s a catch. And the catch in this case is the price of graphene.
Right now graphene costs about $1000 per kilogram, that’s for the highest quality graphene that you need for these batteries.
Lithium is selling for about $80 per kilogram. Of course that’s just one component of the lithium-ion battery but still.https://www.lme.com/en/metals/ev/about-lithium
That’s been the major drawback of all graphene technologies this whole time, it has to be synthesized. You can’t just dig graphene out of the ground, the only way to make is feasible is to reduce the cost of making it.

GMG for example has patented a process for making graphene out of methane, but they’re being kinda cagey about exactly how much it saves them in production costs.
But if you’re going to compare the price of graphene with that of lithium ion, it’s only fair to keep in mind that once upon a time, lithium ion was prohibitively expensive.
The price of lithium ion battery storage has plummeted over the last couple of decades, and now it’s flirting with $100 per kilowatt-hour.
It’s more than possible that graphene could follow the same trajectory once a sustainable, inexpensive process is perfected. And there’s a lot of projects working on that.

Graphene From Trash

One that’s worth talking about is a team from Rice University in collaboration with Ford, who are working on recycling plastic into graphene.
Kill two birds with one stone? Yes please.
Professor James Tour and the team were able to turn plastic into graphene car parts, and they were able to recycle old graphene into new
The question, of course is if the graphene is high enough quality for these type of batteries.
We wanted to get the answer to that so my writer, Ryan emailed Professor Tour and asked if their flash joule heating method is of high quality. And he was kind enough to respond and said, “Flash graphene is one of the purest graphene forms you can get.”
But while he agreed that their method could make graphene prices drop, he was careful to say only as much as the market will bear.
And it’s going to be a while before the supply catches up to the demand, so you won’t be flossing with graphene thread anytime soon.

Some Hurdles Remain

There is also one more problem with GMG’s graphene battery, and that’s voltage.
Their coin cell that hits the market this year delivers 1.7 Volts, and most small electronics require at least 3 volts.
Now that doesn’t mean they can’t be used, you can combine cells to get what you need, this is true of other types of batteries too.(AAA, AA, C, and D cells are 1.5V)
But there are some devices that only take a single cell; computer chips, watches, some toys, and GMG wants to power these without the manufacturers having to change the design.
They’re confident one of the 300,000 variations they’re working on will do the job, they just need the time to find which one.
Of course battery technology is evolving and advancing so fast, it’s possible some other breakthrough could make all of this irrelevant.
I feel like that could be said about pretty much anything these days though.

Promise Fulfilled?

But hey, let’s focus on the good news, there is an actual graphene-based battery hitting the market this year.
I feel like I didn’t mention that GMG does have partnerships with some big-name companies, including the tool manufacturer Bosch and mining company Rio Tinto.
So let’s hope something actually comes of this because I mean, an ethically sourced, fully recyclable, fast charging battery would be a game changer.

And it’ll be nice to finally see this supermaterial we’ve been hearing about for decades in action.
I mean, I’m still holding out for that space elevator.  But you’ve got to start somewhere.
But I don’t know, what do you think? Is this worth getting excited about? Or are we just gonna get the football yanked away from us once again? Sound off in the comments and let me know.

Iron-Air Batteries: Storing Energy In Rust

Grid energy storage is one of the hottest areas of research and engineering today. It’s all about cheap, sustainable, and efficient materials, which makes iron-air batteries stand out amongst the others. Not only is iron plentiful and cheap, it’s completely recyclable and even better – rechargeable. Let’s look at iron-air battery technology and see how likely it is to transform our energy grid.


Over the last couple of years I’ve had something of a series of videos on this channel covering various types of battery technology. It’s not a formal thing exactly, but it’s a popular subject and there seems to be new ones all the time so there’s no shortage of topics.

I’ve covered liquid metal batteries, solid state batteries, redox flow, lithium ion of course, and most recently aluminum air and with each and every one of these videos, just as I was finishing up, Matt Freaking Farrell posts a video on the same topic.

So of course as I was working on a video about Iron Air batteries, there’s one from him, just cutting in line.

But as they say, it’s not who did it first… it’s who did it best. (beat) Of course his graphics are way better than mine so I’m still screwed.

The point is, if you’ve seen Matt’s video… I don’t know, I guess you can skip this one – unless, you just want to see what I might do differently, in which case you’re in luck because I am going to have puppies up on screen. (puppies on screen; smug) Take that, Matt. Check and mate.

And if you haven’t seen Matt’s video, then get ready to learn something… And look at puppies.

I had no idea in October when I made that video about Oxygen that the stuff I talked about in that would be relevant in so many other videos. It was called Oxygen is Killing You and it was about how oxygen is one of the most corrosive elements on the periodic table but weirdly, even paradoxically, that corrosiveness is what makes life possible.

And it’s what makes a lot of things possible, when it comes down to it, pretty much everything is transformed or powered by combustion; or oxidation.

As I covered in the aluminum air battery video, oxygen reacts with aluminum to create aluminum hydroxide. Which by the way, fun fact, whenever you look at anything aluminum, you’re really seeing the thin outer layer of aluminum hydroxide. You’ve probably never actually seen aluminum in your life.

Well it works the same way with iron. Oxygen reacts with iron to form iron oxide, also known as rust. And this process gives off a little bit of energy.

But before we get too far into how the batteries work and everything… I feel like at the beginning of every video I have to explain why we need battery storage, how important energy storage is for renewable energy and all that, but there might be another way of looking at it…

The Battery Bottleneck

The reason we talk about all these different kinds of energy storage is because there are a lot of different use cases, and different batteries are better suited for different purposes.

Lithium-ion is great for EVs because they’re energy dense, so smaller batteries, better for mobility, can be cycled thousands of times, and provide a lot of power to make the zoom-zooms.

They’re great for home storage and grid storage, too, but every battery that goes into that is a battery that’s not going in a car.

And that’s a lot of batteries. Home energy storage was a $6.97 billion dollar market in 2020. And grid storage systems are expected to grow 10-fold between 2019 and 2023.

This is a problem. Because battery availability is the biggest hinderance to the growth of EVs.

Not only are there just not enough batteries to meet demand for EVs these days but it’s this scarcity that keeps the cost of the batteries – and EVs – higher than gas cars.

In fact, some industry experts are warning that demand for lithium ion batteries may soon exceed supply.

Europe has been experiencing a major shortfall this last year, because most of their batteries are coming from Asia, and Covid has wreaked havoc on global trade.

There are new plants coming online in Europe to address this, and that’s obviously a good thing but there is still the deeper problem of raw materials.

Expensive Materials

Most lithium ion batteries rely on expensive materials like lithium, nickel, and cobalt. All of which have to be mined, and in a relatively small number of places on Earth.

And these prices can fluctuate. Lithium has actually tripled this year, which has added about $470 to the cost of every EV, on average.

The point is, lithium ion, for all its great properties, is constrained. And if we want to advance car electrification going forward, it might make sense to find alternative solutions for all those non-mobile storage needs. So we can put lithium ion in the cars and phones and computers to live its best life.

And that is why we keep hearing about all these new battery technologies, everybody’s scrambling to come up with the cheapest, most sustainable option until we finally develop an arc reactor. In a cave. With a box of scraps.

A LiOn Alternative

Now that I’ve said the thing; the thing I say in all these videos… again… Let’s talk about iron air batteries.

How It Works

So, much like the Aluminum-Air Battery I covered about a week after Matt Ferrell, iron-air batteries fall into the category of metal-air batteries, where energy is stored and released through the oxidation of metal.

With metal-air batteries, the anode is the metal and the cathode is oxygen basically.

And the electrolyte of course is a solution of water with stuff dissolved in it to improve conductivity.

As I said before, iron plus water and oxygen equals iron oxide, or rust. and this chemical reaction — rusting — releases electrons to pass through a circuit as current
All this is pretty similar to what we talked about with aluminum, the difference with iron is that this rusting process is reversible. In other words… you can recharge this one.

Yeah, sounds like magic but you can “unrust” the iron by adding current from outside.
And because you can recharge it, it’s made from abundant materials, and it’s totally recyclable, it was considered a potential battery for electric vehicles back in the 70’s and 80’s.

In fact, iron has a theoretical energy density about twice that of lithium ion batteries. So… Why aren’t we seeing them everywhere now?

Short Cycle Life

There’s a few reasons, the first is cycle life.

So yeah, while we’re clapping and celebrating that they’re rechargeable, it’s important to know… They’re kinda just barely rechargeable.

Cycle life refers to the number of times a battery can be charged and discharged before it gives out less energy than was put in.

For example, nickel- and lithium-based batteries can be recharged 300 to 500 times before losing any significant capacity.
Significant, meaning twenty-percent less than a fresh battery. It can go thousands of cycles before it’s totally dead.
this cites 2000 cycles as a typical cycle life; I think that’s to DEAD

Early iron-air batteries could only do 20-30 cycles. That’s less.

Later models improved on that, but it was still way short of other competing batteries, so, it faded away.

Why do iron-air batteries have such short cycle lives? Well I’m glad you asked, with most metal-air batteries, the problem is the components deteriorate.

I mean all that oxidizing and un-oxidizing and re-oxidizing takes its toll after a while.

In the case of iron-air, the iron anode can theoretically last upwards of 10,000 cycles. That’s not the problem. It’s the cathode and the electrolyte.

There’s a membrane on the cathode that regulates air flow. That membrane can react with the electrolyte, causing contamination that decreases cycle life.

Corrosion can cause the battery to self-discharge. So instead of storing energy, the battery bleeds it away while sitting idle. Obviously a problem.

So, those are the kind of problems that have stymied interest in iron-air but there has been a lot of progress made since then.

Recent Innovations

Like less reactive materials for the cathode membrane, and more efficient electrolyte solutions.

And now nanotechnology is getting in on the action.

Anodes of iron nanoparticles have more surface area to carry out reactions.

Nanocomposites of iron and graphene or carbon fiber gives even better results

The company that’s making the most waves in Iron-air batteries is Form Energy, and they have plans to launch a grid-scale iron-air battery in the next few years.

They claim to have solved all the aforementioned problems but they’re keep the details of how they’re doing it a secret.

And I guess we’re just supposed to trust them. As if Nikola Motors and Theranos never existed.

Form Energy

But clearly somebody trusts them because they’ve raised $360 million in investment rounds.

Two of those somebodies being Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

So either they really are sitting on some secret sauce that will fix all the problems, or the potential for an Iron Air battery that can compete with Lithium Ion is just that enticing.

It doesn’t hurt that one of their founders is the former Vice President of Products and Programs at Tesla focusing specifically on grid-scale storage.

And they’ve also got on board a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT who was an innovator of lithium-ion technology back in the day.

In fact, the words “Tesla” and “MIT” pop up a lot in bios of Form executives. Like, this is kind-of the grid energy storage dream team.

And this dream team claims their new battery could be a major step toward a 100% renewable energy grid.

Do you want Bill Gates money? Because that’s how you get Bill Gates money.

An Economical Battery

The individual batteries are made from 10-20 iron-air cells that are stacked to form a battery about the size of a washing machine.

And its anode is the largest ever made, which actually speaks to the economy of the design because despite it using more metal, it’s expected to run at less than a tenth the energy cost of a comparable lithium-ion battery.
This is, of course just based off their claims, as I mentioned, Form is keeping some details to themselves

But it won’t be long before we know if it’s all it’s cracked up to be, there’s actually a pilot program going online in 2023 in Cambridge, Minnesota.

The Pilot Project

It’s called the Cambridge Energy Storage Project and is part of a Green-power makeover by Great River Energy.

Great River plans to QUOTE eliminate coal from its power supply portfolio and add 1,100 megawatts (MWs) of wind energy by 2023 UNQUOTE

1 MegaWatt will be from the Cambridge Project, maybe with more to come

Great River hopes that the project can help prevent extended blackouts, which have been a problem in the past.

A blackout caused by the polar vortex left people without power for up to 72 hours in 2019.

Another blackout kept some without power for 48 hours in 2003. This one caused by a software bug.
On a personal note, I’m actually getting solar and storage on my house right now because of the blackouts we had here in Texas last February. I knew people who were burning their furniture in the fireplace for warmth. But at least they survived, at least 151 people died.

Now some might say that’s all the more reason to not ditch coal and oil, if people are already dying for lack of electricity.

But form hopes their battery could change the conversation by helping secure the grid. We’ll know more when the pilot project kicks off.

What should we expect when it does?

Watts Per Hour

Form makes rather modest claims about the rate at which their batteries can power the grid

The pilot facility will use an acre of land to provide 1 MW/150 MWh of energy
Watts are a measure of how much work can be done, while watt-hours measure work over time

So Form is saying their acre of their batteries will deliver 1 MW to the grid. At a steady 1 MW per hour, they’ll be able to keep this up for 150 hours.

A denser configuration could deliver three times the energy with the same footprint

For comparison, Tesla’s Megapack can deliver 250 MW/1GWh of energy per acre. 250 MegaWatts is enough to power 75,000 homes. Impressive.

But some easy math will show that at 250 MW per hour, an acre of Megapacks will run out in four hours.

Form’s Focus

At 1 MW/150 MWh, Form isn’t looking to power a major city during peak energy demand, their focus is delivering low-cost, long-duration energy.

A company blog post acknowledges that lithium-ion batteries “will meet the majority of future electricity demand”

They’re not looking to replace lithium-ion batteries completely, in fact, the best use of Form’s batteries might be as part of a hybrid system

In times of low energy demand, the iron-air part would provide inexpensive power.

When demand peaks, the lithium-ion batteries would kick in.

But in emergency situations, iron-air batteries could provide days of emergency power, which could save lives during extreme weather events.

So… is Iron Air the end-all, be-all of battery storage? No. But no single battery is.

Which, as I was saying at the beginning, is all the more reason to have a multitude of battery types that can fill specific niches in the most cost-effective and sustainable way possible.

It’s actually a really interesting time to be covering battery technology, and who knows, maybe someday we’ll develop the perfect battery that does all things in all applications. And when we do, I’ll cover it right here… Probably a week after Matt Ferrell.

Tell me your thoughts about the iron air battery and if there’s another battery storage solution that you’re excited about.











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