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 charges 70 times faster than a lithium-ion battery and can be reused thousands of times.

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

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

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

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

“We need batteries of all different types to manage the massive fluctuations in electricity in the grid.

“Our battery we think is going to be a big help because we’re able to charge our battery many times a day, whereas the lithium battery can really only do that once.”

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

Energy Corporation of NSW board 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.

Possibilities for graphene batteries

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

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

“The possibilities are great, and not just what we think batteries are useful for at the moment.

“There’s so much potential if this transition is actually going to stick and go through.”

A headshot 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.(Provided by: Craig Nicol )

Mr Nicol said the company did not yet make AA batteries, but was working on a coin-cell battery in 2023 that would be used in remote controls and would be safe for children.

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

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

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

“It’s not like a lithium battery that normally lasts 500 cycles and then needs to be replaced,” he said.

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

“These are really world-leading because the last time anyone did anything on aluminum batteries was Stanford and ours is four times better than Stanford.”

Problems with lithium batteries

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

An electric power board with burnt material nearby
Mr Nicol says lithium batteries found in household items can be very unstable.(Provided by: 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 built out of phones and cars and now some grid batteries, but it’s a very unstable battery when it comes in contact with water or air.

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

Australia is a major exporter

Research fellow from UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Dr Xiaodan Huang said graphene batteries were light, non-flammable and much less expensive 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 are more affordable and easier to recycle.

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

Deepak Dubal from the 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 largest supplier of lithium in the world and the second largest supplier of cobalt,” he said.

Man in a white lab coat holds a jar with a yellow lid and dark colored chemicals in it.
The Queensland industry is trying to provide an alternative to lithium batteries.(Provided by: The University of Queensland )

However, Dr Dubal said Australia was not really benefiting from the export of lithium and batteries due to only focusing on one segment within the six segment battery value chain.

“We are not the biggest beneficiary in the lithium battery market because although Australia accounts for 50 percent of the market share for lithium exports, we do not produce the batteries ourselves,” he said.

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

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

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