Graphene Batteries Appear, Results Questionable

If you listen to the zeitgeist, graphene is the next big thing. It’s the end of the oil industry, the solution to global warming, will feed and clothe millions, cure disease, is the foundation of a space elevator that will allow humanity to venture forth into the galaxy. Graphene makes you more attractive, feel younger, and allows you to win friends and influence people. Needless to say, there’s a little bit of hype surrounding graphene.

With hype comes marketing, and with marketing comes products making dubious claims. The latest of which is graphene batteries from HobbyKing. According to the literature, these lithium polymer battery packs for RC planes and quadcopters, ‘utilize carbon in the battery structure to form a single layer of graphene… The graphene particles for a highly dense compound allowing electrons to flow with less resistance compared to traditional Lipoly battery technologies” These batteries also come packaged in black shrink tubing and have a black battery connector, making them look much cooler than their non-graphene equivalent. That alone will add at least 5mph to the top speed of any RC airplane.

For the last several years, one of the most interesting potential applications for graphene is energy storage. Graphene ultracapacitors are on the horizon, promising incredible charge densities and fast recharge times. Hopefully, in a decade or two, we might see electric cars powered not by traditional lithium batteries, but graphene supercapacitors. They’ll be able to recharge in minutes and drive further, allowing the world to transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy. World peace commences about two weeks after that happens.

No one expected graphene batteries to show up now, though, and especially not from a company whose biggest market is selling parts to people who build their own quadcopters. How do these batteries hold up? According to the first independent review, it’s a good battery, but the graphene is mostly on the label.

[rampman] on the RCgroups forums did a few tests on the first production runs of the battery, and they’re actually quite good. You can pull a lot of amps out of them, they last through a lot of charging cycles, and the packaging – important for something that will be in a crash – is very good. Are these batteries actually using graphene in their chemistry? That’s the unanswered question, isn’t it?

To be fair, the graphene batteries shipped out to reviewers before HobbyKing’s official launch do perform remarkably well. In the interest of fairness, though, these are most certainly not stock ‘graphene’ battery packs. The reviewers probably aren’t shills, but these battery packs are the best HobbyKing can produce, and not necessarily representative of what we can buy.

It’s also doubtful these batteries use a significant amount of graphene in their construction. According to the available research, graphene increases the power and energy density of batteries. The new graphene batteries store about as much energy as the nano-tech batteries that have been around for years, but weigh significantly more. This might be due to the different construction of the battery pack itself, but the graphene battery should be lighter and smaller, not 20 grams heavier and 5 mm thicker.

In the RC world, HobbyKing is known as being ‘good enough’. It’s not the best stuff you can get, but it is cheap. It’s the Wal-Mart of the RC world, and Wal-Mart isn’t introducing bleeding edge technologies that will purportedly save the planet. Is there real graphene in these batteries? We await an in-depth teardown, preferably with an electron microscope, with baited breath.

Super Thin ICs are Coming

An ordinary integrated circuit is made of layers of material. Typically a layer is made from some material (like silicon dioxide, polysilicon, copper, or aluminum). Sometimes a process will modify parts of a layer (for example, using ion implantation to dope regions of silicon). Other times, some part of the layer will be cut away using a photolithography process.

Researchers at MIT have a new technique that allows super thin layers (1-3 atoms thick) and–even more importantly–enables you to use two materials in the same layer. They report that they have built all the basic components required to create a computer using the technique.

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Graphene Super Caps: Coming Soon?

If you read Hackaday regularly, you’ve probably heard that you can use a LASER to create graphene. There’s been a bit of research on how to make practical graphene supercapacitors using the technique (known as LIG or LASER-induced graphene). Researchers at Rice University have been working on this, and apparently they’ve had significant success inducing graphene capacitors on a Kapton substrate. The team has published a paper in Advanced Materials (which is behind a paywall) about their work.

In particular, Rice claims that they have easily produced supercapacitors with an energy density of 3.2 mW/cubic centimeter (that’s what the University’s website reports; they probably mean mW-hours/cubic centimeter) with capacitances near one millifarad per square centimeter. A key benefit of the construction method is that the capacitors continued to work after researchers bent them 10,000 times. A flexible capacitor is useful in wearable devices that would often flex, or in a device like a cell phone that could bend in your back pocket as you sit.

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Self Folding Graphene Paper

Origami, the art of folding paper into shapes, is the latest craft to fall to automation. Researchers in China have published a paper in Science Advances describing how they created graphene-based paper that can fold itself. According to their paper (that is, the paper they wrote, not their graphene paper), the new material can adopt a predefined shape, walk, or even turn a corner.

Active materials like shape memory polymers, aren’t new. But there are many practical problems with using such materials. Using MGMs (Macroscopic Graphene Materials), the researchers created paper that can change shape based on light. temperature, or humidity.

The video below shows a few uses including a self-folding box, a worm-like motion device, and a hand-like piece of paper making a grasping motion. The creators mention that there are a wide range of applications including robotics, artificial muscles, and sensing devices. After watching the video, we couldn’t help but wonder how cool a paper flower that opened in the sunlight would be.

We’ve covered how to make your own graphene in a home lab and even inside a DVD burner. We’ll be interested to see who is the first to hack some graphene paper and what you’ll use it for.

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Rod Logic and Graphene: Elusive Molecule-Scale Computers

I collect slide rules. You probably know a slide rule is a mechanical calculator of sorts. They usually look like a ruler (hence the name) and have a sliding part (hence the name) and by using logarithms you can multiply and divide easily by doing number line addition and subtraction (among other things).

It is easy to dismiss old technology like that out of hand as being antiquated, but mechanical computing may be making a comeback. It may seem ancient, but mechanical adding machines, cash registers, and even weapon control computers were all mechanical devices a few decades ago and there were some pretty sophisticated techniques developed to make them work. Perhaps the most sophisticated of all was Babbage’s difference engine, even though he didn’t have the technology to make one that actually functioned (the Computer History Museum did though; you should see it operating in person, but this is good too).

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Graphene Grown on Semiconductors Big Step Toward Manufacturability

No modern technology has been met with more hype than graphene. These single-layer sheets of carbon promise everything from incredibly efficient power grids to more advanced electronics to literal elevators to space. Until now, though, researchers have yet to produce graphene sheets or ribbons in a reliable way. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the US Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory have done just that, growing graphene nanoribbons on the surface of a germanium crystal.

By using a germanium crystal as a substrate, the researchers have found a directionality to the way these graphene nanoribbons form. This has been a problem for researchers experimenting with graphene microelectronics in the past; labs experimenting with making transistors out of carbon nanotubes found growth is highly unpredictable. The controlled growth of graphene nanoribbons opens the door to more precise fabrication, something that is necessary for microelectronics fabrication.

Synthesis of nanoribbons this small have not been possible before. Because germanium itself is a semiconductor – and was used for the first transistor – this discovery may pave the way for the creation of graphene-based circuits grown using the same semiconductor fabrication processes used today.

Laser Etching Graphene Supercapacitors

The tech is nothing new, but did you know you can make your own graphene using your DVD burner? No seriously — all you need is a light-scribe compatible DVD burner and some graphite oxide.

It’s pretty simple. By placing a thin film on top of a DVD (or any plastic CD shaped disc), and coating it with graphite oxide, you can literally print patterns of graphene using the laser in your DVD burner. By making the shapes shown above, you can introduce an electrolyte and turn the whole thing into a supercapacitor. Albeit, a tiny super capacitor. But — you can print hundreds of them on a DVD in less than an hour.

We’ve covered this before a few times now, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. We’re still waiting for someone (one of you guys!) to do a project that actually makes use of graphene! Hurry up!

[Thanks for the tip John!]