Faster charging, greener and more reliable battery cells could lead to an EV revolution. Picture: SUPPLIED
Faster charging, greener and more reliable battery cells could lead to an EV revolution. Picture: SUPPLIED

An Australian nanotechnology battery invention could wipe out the range and recharging shortcomings of electric cars and trucks within the next five years.

The breakthrough graphene aluminium-ion battery cells charge up to 70 times faster than lithium-ion cells, are more efficient, can discharge energy faster and have a longer lifespan. They’re also more sustainable and easier to recycle.

The Brisbane-based Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG) has co-developed a graphene aluminium-ion battery with cheap and abundant raw materials that could recharge automotive batteries in minutes, rather than hours.

The breakthrough technology comes from a University of Queensland (UQ) research project and replaces expensive lithium with aluminium, which boosts the energy density of batteries enormously.

So quickly do the new graphene aluminium-ion batteries charge and discharge that they effectively bridge the gap between lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors, GMG MD Craig Nicol said.

The company is validating and developing coin cell batteries now and plans to put them into limited production later this year, with automotive cylinder and pouch cells following by 2024 or 2025 and solid-state versions in development.

It has used nanotechnology to insert aluminium atoms inside tiny perforations in graphene planes to deliver 7,000 Watts per kilogram in energy density.

When the cell recharges, aluminium ions return to the negative electrode and can exchange three electrons per ion instead of lithium’s speed limit of just one.

It has also been done with a bare minimum of exotic metals.

“It’s basically aluminium foil, aluminium chloride (the precursor to aluminium and it can be recycled), and the ionic liquid is urea,” Nicol said.

Nanotechnology is used to insert aluminium atoms inside tiny perforations in graphene planes to deliver 7000 Watts per kilogram in energy density. Picture: SUPPLIED
Nanotechnology is used to insert aluminium atoms inside tiny perforations in graphene planes to deliver 7000 Watts per kilogram in energy density. Picture: SUPPLIED

So far, testing shows the technology to be remarkably resistant to heat and sub-zero temperatures, which could have enormous implications for heavy vehicle cooling systems, which usually make up about 20% of the weight of current lithium-ion battery packs.

The first step for GMG will be to launch the production coin cells, and to find a major supplier or OEM as a customer for them.

The risk for GMG is that the automotive industry seems to have tied itself to lithium-ion battery cells in the short term.

“They are all stuck on the lithium-ion train,” Nicol said. “We need people who can adopt a new paradigm.”

GMG has been in loose contact with several companies but has not locked down a supply deal with a major manufacturer or manufacturing facility.

“We are not tied in to big brands yet, but this could go into an Apple iPhone and charge it in less than a minute,” Nicol confirmed.

“It’s a lot less adverse effect on health, too. A kid can be killed by lithium if it’s ingested, but not with aluminium.”

Stanford’s natural graphite aluminium-ion technology delivers 68.7 watt-hours per kilogram and 41.2 watts per kilogram, while its graphite-foam bumps up to 3000W/kg.

The GMG-UQ battery heaves that forward to between 150 and 160Wh/kg and 7000W/kg.

Another benefit could be that where the price of the lithium metal has risen from $1,460 a tonne in 2005 to $13,000 a tonne today, aluminium has moved from $1,730 to $2,484 today. 

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