Graphene, a boon to energy sector

Graphene, known to be the strongest and thinnest material in the world at present, is actually a single layer of carbons arranged in a hexagonal, honeycomb lattice pattern.

This "miracle" nanomaterial, which was discovered in 2004, possesses surprising thermal and electrical conductivity properties and is today creating a fresh wave of excitement in the world of material science and nanotechnology.

Graphene and related 2D crystals hold a huge promise in the energy sector, among others. Researchers have predicted that the energy sector will be highly benefitted as graphene technology finds its novel applications in the near future in batteries, capacitors, various types of cells, sensors, ion-exchange membranes and so on.

Magnificent chemical stability, elasticity, high electrical and thermal conductivity, and surface area abundance are some of the major reasons why graphene stands out as a material of choice for practical applications in the energy sector. The physical flexibility, among many other factors, makes it highly appropriate for storing charge in batteries or supercapacitors, and for acting as catalysts in fuel-cell electrodes.

Research suggests that graphene capacitors have the potential to provide power using less energy than traditional technologies and that too at a large scale. Graphene has also been seen as an alternative choice of the material to be used in the electrodes of supercapacitors for better performance. Supercapacitors are devices that hold enormous power and charge up very quickly. They are typically used in vehicles such as electric cranes.

In 2011, researchers at Northwestern University, California, found that specially-crafted graphene anodes are able to store 10 times more power when compared to graphite anodes, enabling 10 times faster and long-lasting battery charging for Li-ion batteries. It can be concluded, therefore, that graphene can probably improve energy capacity as well as the charge rate in almost all types of rechargeable batteries, solving a dilemma the global industrial energy sector has been facing a long time now.

Again, graphene sheets can be modified by creating gaps and inserting other atoms in them. The resulting structure  has higher power and energy density. It also shows an enhancement in charge and discharge cycles of batteries.

Graphene is also proving to be a boon to the renewable and sustainable energy sector now. It can be used in making high energy efficient solar cells and LEDs a close reality. It has been used to develop quality anti-reflection coatings for solar cells, and research is ongoing in the area to find whether it can successfully replace platinum in solar cell electrodes without any loss of energy efficiency. Even emerging battery technologies such as Si-anode and LiS are betting big on graphene-based nanotechnology to deliver the best results at affordable production costs.

Powerhouse of energy

As the role of graphene as a saviour in the energy sector continues to evolve, a new research in Log 9 Materials has shown a major improvement in Lead-Acid battery functionalities using graphene nanotechnology. Initial formulations have shown that with an addition of graphene derivatives, the energy density of automobile batteries show an increment up to 30%, while the power shows an increment of up to 30-35%.

Also, the partial-state-of-charge (PSoC) cycle life of these batteries has improved by 1.3 times. Further optimisation of graphene and its derivatives is expected to show an increment of up to 50% in terms of power density.

Application of graphene is expected to help in reduction of weight of battery cells, thus producing smaller batteries with similar or higher efficiency than the currently available ones. It would not be an exaggeration to say that with each passing day, graphene is opening the doors to a plethora of priceless opportunities in the energy industry, creating value for technology propositions.

With its extraordinary properties garnering multi-disciplinary attraction and patents being issued for graphene-based products is good news, further intensification of research and development in collaboration with the industry-academia to realise the potential of graphene technology is need of the hour.

Particularly for a developing country like India, where energy deficiency and lack of energy conservation are major issues that still remain to be dealt with. Once the scientific community finds a way to mass produce high-quality graphene at reduced costs, the energy sector among many others will have a great reason to rejoice.

(The writer is founder, Log 9 Materials)

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