Will A Graphene Battery Power Tomorrow’s Tesla Car?

A graphene battery is a new type of battery made of graphene, a thin sheet of carbon atoms in a honeycomb pattern. Rumors are Tesla is working on a car graphene battery, which can be fully charged five times faster than common batteries.

As electric cars gain increasing market share, new battery technologies are being implemented in them to improve their range and efficiency. The graphene battery is one of the new technologies that could be applied to electric vehicles.

One of the biggest problems with electric vehicles is that the batteries electric cars use are large and heavy. These batteries take a long time to charge and run out of energy rather quickly. To solve this problem, many are looking to graphene batteries as a solution. Just last year a student engineer at the University of Sussex designed a new graphene-based battery that has the potential to revolutionize the landscape of electric vehicles. Graphene batteries can improve over current battery technology in many different ways, such as offering increased battery life and performance.

What Is Graphene?

A representation of graphene. Photo: By AlexanderAlUS – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Graphene batteries can offer improved performance over traditional batteries thanks to the structure of graphene. Graphene is composed of carbon atoms tightly bound together in a honeycomb-esque structure. The graphene structure is so thin it is essentially two dimensional.

Graphene is an excellent conductor of both thermal and electrical energy. Graphene is also chemically inert, has a large surface area yet remains flexible, and is very lightweight. Graphene is typically considered sustainable and environmentally friendly, with many different possible applications.

“We will not stop until every car on the road is electric.” Elon Musk

Electrons typically have a small effective mass associated with them whenever they move through a solid structure, which limits their movement. This is a result of their interactions with all the other particles around them. Since a sheet graphene is two dimensional it doesn’t have these interactions with other particles, so the electrons in the graphene act as though they have no mass. They can move quickly through space, almost at the speed of light.

GrapheneInteresting Facts
AcclaimResearch on Graphene led to Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010
Band gapnone
ColorNearly transparent
ConductivityConducts heat and electricity
ElasticityStretches up to 20 percent of its length
Fully characterized2004
ImpermeableThe most impermeable material ever discovered
NameThe word Graphene is a combination of the word graphite and -ene
StrengthIt is the strongest material ever tested
StructureA single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice

This unique behavior is what makes graphene so impressively conductive, able to conduct electricity almost 35% better than copper. Electron transport through graphene is also 1,000 times better than through silicon, which contributes to why computers based on graphene transistors have the potential to be thousands of times faster than current silicon-based computers. This is also why graphene maintains a minimum conductance at all times.

Battery Applications for Graphene

In terms of battery applications, the performance of regular batteries can be enhanced significantly when combined with graphene. Graphene batteries are well suited for shorter charging time and high capacity energy storage. The amount of carbon in the material of a battery or in the battery’s electrodes is negatively correlated with the lifetime of the battery, but graphene can improve conductivity without needing the same amount of carbon used in regular batteries.

Graphene can improve various facets of batteries like energy density and structure. Traditional lithium-ion batteries can be improved by combining graphene with the battery. The battery’s anode can have graphene added to it, which can optimize the battery’s performance by capitalizing on the material’s conductivity.

Hybrid materials can also enhance batteries. Graphene and Vanadium Oxide can be combined together to grant quick charge and discharge abilities for lithium-ion cathodes. Hybrid materials can also improve charge cycle durability and conductivity. Vanadium Oxide has poor electric conductivity, but by using graphene as a backbone which the oxide can attach to, it creates a hybrid that allows for both superior capacity and conductivity.

“The goal of Tesla is to accelerate sustainable energy, so we’re going to take a step back and think about what’s most likely to achieve that goal.” — Elon Musk

Li-ion rechargeable batteries can be improved with graphene as well. Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) batteries have a higher overall power density than other Li-ion batteries, but they also have a lower energy density. Graphene can be used to enhance the LFP cathodes, allowing the batteries to be much more lightweight, have a greater storage capacity, and charge much quicker than regular LFP batteries.

The combined use of graphene batteries along with supercapacitors could drastically improve the efficiency and driving range of electric cars, and electric vehicle companies have invested in the development of graphene batteries for their cars.

Graphene Batteries in Electric Vehicles

New advances in graphene batteries have lead to the creation of a battery that surpasses the performance of any lithium-ion battery currently in use. Graphenano, a Spanish battery company, unveiled last year a graphene-polymer battery which could let electric vehicles drive up to 800 km, or 497 miles, on a single charge. The battery could also theoretically be charged in only a few minutes. Thanks to its graphene construction the battery is capable of charging and discharging approximately 33 times faster than a regular lithium-ion battery.

The Fisker Corporation, run by Henrik Fisker, perhaps the foremost rivals to the success of Tesla’s electric vehicles, was initially planning on using graphene batteries in its new electric car, the Fisker EMotion. However, the plan was subsequently dropped in favor of lithium-ion batteries. Despite the decision to pass on graphene batteries for electric vehicles, for the time being, Fisker has said that the company’s research into solid-state graphene battery cells would continue.

If Fisker does decide to use graphene batteries in their vehicles, they would probably be the first company to do so. That said, it is unlike Tesla to sit on the sidelines while other companies pursue advances in electric vehicle technology. Odds are good that if graphene batteries become a transformative technology, Tesla will pursue their use in some capacity.

In the meantime, research into graphene batteries continues, as does work on supercapacitors that can utilize graphene and may render traditional batteries obsolete in the near future. The supercapacitor is comprised of three layers. It has two layers of graphene while the middle layer is a layer of electrolytes. The supercapacitor film is very thin yet very strong and stable, and it can release an impressive amount of energy in a very short time span, which is necessary as electric vehicles need extra energy for quick spurts of acceleration.

A recent market analysis done by Global Market Insights suggests that the market for graphene batteries will expand to around $97 million dollars by 2023. As graphene battery technology becomes more affordable and more efficient, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see them in electric vehicles sometime soon.