By 2035, the market for graphene is expected to reach €1.8 billion, but the most famous molecule in the tech industry is finding use in real-world products.
It’s super thin, super sensitive and super strong, but does the super-conductive material called graphene have a so-called killer app? Graphene is created by isolating an atom-thick layer of graphite. After years in the labs, materials scientists are now creating prototypes for real-world products. Graphene could prove the miracle behind some of the 21st century’s most innovative industrial products. Are we on the cusp of an age of industrial graphene?
A critical property of graphene is its ultra-high electrical conductivity, which makes it useful for rapidly recharging batteries. One of its first commercial uses will be the Zap & Go by Zapgocharger, a portable battery for recharging smartphones, which will go on sale later this year. Zap & Go is the equivalent of a 750mAh lithium-ion battery about half the size of an iPhone battery, and uses graphene-enhanced electronics to both speed up the recharging process and improve energy density.
Quentin Lemarie is a materials engineer at Zapgocharger:
It can charge half of your phone in five minutes. Our aim is to replace the batteries in smartphones, and to do that we need to make it smaller and thinner.
While the specter of a quick-charge battery using graphene is exciting to the electric car industry, graphene is already used in an energy recovery system (ERS) for freight vehicles.
Skeleton Technologies and Adgero have developed a power unit for ERS that uses graphene supercapacitators (actually nano-porous carbide-derived carbon, better known as curved graphene). The components, called SkelCaps, boast electrical conductivity and lower internal resistance, which results in significantly higher efficiency and up to five times less energy being lost as heat. It’s claimed that they therefore save a staggering 15 to 25% on fuel consumption.
These graphene supercapacitators have also been used in a multipurpose unmanned ground vehicle by Estonian company Milrem, while the European Space Agency will use a variant in its spacecraft, possibly as early as 2018.