Batteries are becoming more and more crucial in our lives every year. From our smartphones to our laptops, and increasingly even our cars, batteries make the world go round. The only problem is that today’s generation of lithium batteries are increasingly incapable of providing energy on a scale that we need – especially when it comes to the charges they hold and the time it takes to recharge them. But there is a solution on the horizon, and it is being made possible by a radical material shift. For scientists from Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, have developed a new battery (technically speaking a supercapacitor) made from 3D printed graphene, which can hold a larger charge of energy, is recharged in a matter of seconds and will last a lifetime.

These new graphene batteries could provide a solution for an energy problem that has been made painfully apparent by Pokémon Go – which drains smartphones like you would not believe. The problem isn’t in the app, but in the lithium batteries that can only take a very limited charge. While a battery is not exactly the same as a supercapacitor, both energy-holding vessels suffer from the same drawbacks. Aside from the limited charge they can hold, both take hours to charge while regular use significantly limits their lifespan. We’ve all seen how smartphone batteries lose their juice after a year or two. That, in turn, creates an environmental problem as these types of batteries are expensive to dispose of.

But graphene could offer a solution. For those of you who’ve never heard of graphene, it is essentially a form of carbon, just like diamonds or the lead in pencils. But unlike most forms of carbon, it isn’t a type of 3D shape, but is instead a 2D material that consists of a hexagonal sheet only a single atom thick. Its properties are especially interesting. Not only is it very light and flexible, it is also extremely durable (about a hundred times stronger than steel) while being a very efficient conductor of heat and electricity. Its theoretical existence has been discussed for decades, but it was only first successfully produced in 2004, and has been very interesting to manufacturers since then.


Over the past year-and-a-half or so, researchers have also been extensively experimenting with 3D printable forms of graphene – which is seen as one of the strongest materials in the world. And in many cases, supercapacitors and batteries have been very high on the agenda, thanks to graphene’s excellent energy-storage capacity. Earlier this month, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory unveiled their own progress on 3D printed graphene aerogel supercapacitors.

But this latest battery innovation by Swinburne’s researchers (led by Han Lin) is even more impressive. Their supercapacitor is extremely efficient, as it charges in a matter of seconds and holds a larger charge because it consists of multiple sheets of graphene – creating a very large surface area to store energy on. What’s more, charging and discharging won’t degrade the battery’s quality, so they can theoretically last for a lifetime – a unique property in the world of batteries. These remarkable supercapacitors were first presented at Fresh Science Victoria 2016 earlier this year.



But their list of interesting properties doesn’t end there. Perhaps most importantly, the supercapacitors are also affordable. While graphene has interested battery manufacturers for years, it was always deemed too expensive to produce these sheets of the carbon material. Graphene itself is simply very expensive. 3D printing, however, significantly reduces those production costs, while the extremely long lifespans of the batteries further contribute to lowering total costs. 3D printing thus finally makes large scale graphene production a possibility.

What’s more, the honeycomb graphene sheets are very strong and flexible, and can therefore also be used to develop extremely flexible and thin batteries that could be built into wearable clothing and other personal accessories. Combine that with the extreme lifespans of these supercapacitors and the effects they will have on the environment, and one thing seems clear: batteries will never be the same again.

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