The Brisbane battery company using UQ technology offers a solar energy storage solution to power homes

A Brisbane company believes it can change the face of Australia’s energy landscape with a green, zero-carbon cell which charges 70 times faster than a lithium-ion battery and can be reused thousands of times.

Craig Nicol, Founder and Chief Executive of Graphene Manufacturing Group, said the company’s graphene aluminum-ion battery is a world-leading piece of technology developed by the University of Queensland (UQ).

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The Graphene Manufacturing Group has developed its own proprietary manufacturing process to produce graphene powder from readily available, inexpensive raw materials.

He said the company is the only one in the world that makes its own graphene – a nanomaterial made up of a layer of carbon atoms that is thin, strong and an excellent conductor of electricity – and had been working on the technology for six years.

“There’s a technology here that I think is going to really help with the energy transition, and the Queensland government to come out and say, ‘We want to move forward,’ is a big step forward,” he told Rebecca Levingston from ABC Radio.

“We need batteries of all kinds to be able to cope with the massive power fluctuations in the grid.

“We believe our battery will be of great help as we can charge our battery many times a day while lithium batteries can really only do it once.”

Rapidly increasing use of solar energy has put pressure on Australia’s legacy power grid infrastructure as demand for traditional energy sources has plummeted in recent months.

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

Opportunities for graphene batteries

Mr Nicol said their graphene battery is currently only at laboratory production scale, but there are many opportunities for its wider application in the future, with interest from drone applications and vehicles.

“All the different companies want this type of technology that we have,” he said.

“The possibilities are enormous, and not just what we think batteries are useful for.

“There is so much potential if this transition is to actually take hold and pull through.”

A headshot of a smiling man with short brown hair wearing a white shirt
According to Mr. Nicol, the graphene battery is 70 times faster than a lithium battery and can be charged thousands of times.(Supplied: Craig Nicol )

Mr Nicol said the company has not yet made an AA battery but is working on a 2023 button cell battery that will be used in remote controls and is safe for children.

“We have conducted tests and do not believe there will be any safety issues with our battery.

“These will also be inexpensive and you could gift this battery to your children in their will, it will last so long,” he said.

Mr Nicol also said graphene batteries are the future and could be charged and used thousands of times.

“It’s not like a lithium battery, which typically does 500 cycles and then needs to be replaced,” he said.

“Ours is practically like a hybrid supercapacitor battery that can be charged thousands of times.

“These are truly world leaders as the last time anyone did anything with aluminum batteries was Stanford and ours is four times better than Stanford’s.”

Problems with lithium batteries

Mr Nicol said lithium batteries found in mobile phones, toys and even cars often have faults and there have been safety issues associated with them.

A power panel with burnt material nearby
Mr Nicol says lithium batteries found in household items can be very unstable.(Delivered: Queensland Fire and Emergency Service)

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

“It was effectively built from phones in cars and now some mains batteries, but it’s a very unstable battery when exposed to water or air.

“But we need lithium batteries just as badly as any other opportunity out there, and we need them all at scale for this transition to work.”

Australia a major exporter

Research fellow from UQ’s Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Dr. Xiaodan Huang said graphene batteries are lightweight, non-flammable, and much cheaper and more sustainable than lithium batteries.

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

“Australia is rich in graphene, aluminum and natural gas, which are more affordable and easier to recycle.

“We are trying to offer customers another option as an alternative and special technology for the Australian battery industry as our batteries are imported from overseas companies.”

Deepak Dubal, from Queensland University of Technology’s Center for Materials Science, said Australia is one of the world’s largest suppliers of minerals used in both lithium batteries.

“Australia is the world’s largest supplier of lithium and the second largest supplier of cobalt,” he said.

Man in a white lab coat holding a jar with a yellow lid and dark chemicals inside.
Queensland’s industry is trying to offer an alternative to lithium batteries.(Supplied: The University of Queensland )

However, said Dr. Dubal, Australia hasn’t really benefited from exporting lithium in batteries as it only focuses on one segment within the six-segment battery value chain.

“We’re not the biggest beneficiary in the lithium battery market because although Australia accounts for 50 percent of the lithium export market share, we don’t produce the batteries ourselves,” he said.

“Australia only benefits from 0.53 percent of the total value chain.”

dr Dubal predicted that in 10 years Australia could export both raw lithium and graphene batteries.

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