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 environmentally friendly, carbon-neutral cell which charge 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 developed by the University of Queensland (UQ) was a first-class piece of technology.

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Graphene Manufacturing Group has developed its own proprietary production process to manufacture Graphene powder from low-cost, readily available raw materials.

He said the business was the only one in the world to make its own graphene – a nanomaterial made of a single layer of carbon atoms that is thin, strong and an excellent conductor of electricity – and was working on the technology for six years.

“There’s technology here that I think will really help the energy transition, so the Queensland government coming out and saying, ‘We want to push forward’ is a huge step forward,” a he told ABC Radio’s Rebecca Levingston.

“We need batteries of all kinds to be able to manage the huge swings in electricity in the grid.

“We think our battery is a big help because we’ll be able to charge our battery many times a day, but a lithium battery can only really do it once.”

Rapidly increasing use of solar energy is straining Australia’s aging energy grid infrastructure as demand for traditional power sources has declined in recent months.

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

Opportunities for graphene batteries

Mr Nicol said their graphene battery was currently only on a lab production scale but there were many opportunities for their wider application in the future, with interest from drone and vehicle applications.

“Every different company wants this kind of technology that we have,” he said.

“The opportunities are huge, and not just what we think is useful at the moment.

“There is so much potential if the move really holds and goes through.”

Shot 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 charged thousands of times.(Available: Craig Nicol )

Mr Nicol said the company had not yet produced an AA battery but was working on a 2023 coin cell battery, which was used in remote controls and was safe for children.

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

“These will also be cost-effective and you could gift this battery to your children in a will, it will last that long,” he said.

Mr Nicol also said that graphene batteries are the future and could 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 world-leading because Stanford was the last time anyone did anything on aluminum batteries and ours is four times better than Stanford’s.”

Issues with lithium batteries

Mr Nicol said lithium batteries found in mobile phones, toys and even cars often had defects and associated safety issues.

Electric power board with burning material nearby
Mr Nicol says lithium batteries found in household items can be very unstable.(Available from: Queensland Fire and Emergency Service)

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

“It’s been effectively taken from phones into cars and now some grid batteries, but it’s a very unstable battery when it comes into contact with water or air.

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

Australia’s major exporter

Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology research fellow Dr Xiaodan Huang said graphene batteries were light, non-flammable and much cheaper and more sustainable than lithium batteries.

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

“Australia is a rich resource of graphene, aluminum and natural gas, which is more affordable and easier to recycle.

“We want to provide a different option for customers to choose as an alternative and specialty technology for the Australian battery industry, as our batteries are imported from overseas companies.”

Deepak Dubal from Queensland University of Technology’s Materials Science Center said Australia was 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 containing dark colored chemicals.
Queensland industry wants to offer an alternative to lithium batteries.(Available: University of Queensland )

However, Dr Dubal said Australia had not benefited greatly from exporting lithium in batteries due to focusing on only one segment within the six-segment battery value chain.

“We are not the biggest beneficiary in the lithium battery market because even though Australia makes up 50 percent of the market share for lithium exports, we are not producing the batteries ourselves,” he said.

“Australia only touches 0.53 per cent of the entire value chain.”

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

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