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.

89 thoughts on “Graphene Batteries Appear, Results Questionable

  1. Graphene was developed in the UK at UMIST, so I should be blowing its trumpet, and I would be, if I could honestly think of a use for it. It is a 1 atom thick layer of graphite…………it conducts electricity…………….so what? there was talk of putting it in LED’s but no mention of how its presence would actually improve the LED, and where in the LED it would be put. That project seems to have gone very quiet now. When I was at school 50 odd years ago we drew heavy pencil lines on paper, and tested them with a multimeter, they conducted electricity (WOW) and they were flexible (WOW) but nothing new, I bet the teacher was shown that when he was in school! Reminds me a bit of the Radium toothpaste ideas of yesteryear where if it was good, and you added radium, it became magically better! NOW with ADDED GRAPHENE! Move along folks, nothing to see here!
    Phil
    UK

    1. Graphene was developed in the UK by “Sir Andrej Konstantinovič Gejm” of russian-german heritage and “Sir Konstantin Sergejewitsch Nowosjolow” of russian heritage.

      With love from russia and also some germany!

      When you take a closer look much research comes from UK but mostly from non-UK citizens.

      1. It’s the same reason why a professor from Germany teaches students from Taiwan at MIT: that’s where the money is. None of the people involved would have the same opportunities at home.

        UK is 50 million, the whole Europe is 500 million people. There’s a 90% chance that an exceptionally brilliant person in Europe is born somewhere else than UK, but there’s also almost 90% chance that they are born into a country with far less money to spend on academia, so they naturally move to the UK where there is money and prestigious universities with well funded facilities.

        English also happens to be the lingua franca of science and business, so people are less likely to go for France of Germany for their first choice.

    2. If I was building batteries, I would use graphene plated with the appropriate electrode material to separate individual cells in the battery, only using conventional electrodes for the outer-most two. That having been said, I don’t know how thick the non-reacting portion of the internal electrodes in RC batteries currently are, so I have no way of knowing if would actually help there.

      1. lithium batteries aren’t built with multiple cells integrated because they are made by sandwiching the materials on a long strip and then rolling it together . In order to make a multi-cell battery, the stack would become too thick to roll.

        The second reason is that the cells have varying properties because of the varying thickness of the materials, so the cells would probably get different capacities and internal resistances, and the battery wouldn’t be balanced. That’s why you bin and pair individual cells when you make lithium battery packs.

  2. Just like to add that these supposed “breakthroughs” do have one use, that is to ensure the continued flow of research money to Universities, but watch out for cold fusion as it seems to be the antimatter of research grants!

    1. People who complain about research grants usually don’t have any idea how small they actually are, or how research grants even work.

      Universities get their income from tuitions, and the researchers get their grants from what’s left over after you subtract all the running costs and profits. Usually the researchers have to apply for external funding by themselves because the faculty ain’t paying.

      Universities don’t get paid for cranking out research papers. They get paid for cranking out people with degrees for the economy. They attract students, therefore money, by having high level and quality of research.

      1. To clarify your post
        Researchers in STEM fields anyways, get the bulk of their grants from government bodies like the the National Science Foundation (roughly 30% of their budget goes to academics) or branches of the military whose grant budgets are in the billions.

        Each grant issued to an academic gets a % taken, off the top, to go towards university overhead (facilities maintenance, utilities, salaries, &c) . This % varies by institute but generally exceeds 50%. So if your proposal requires $300k for new instruments, student funding, supplies, and travel expenses; you need to ask for $600k since the institute will take 50% of your grant check.

        Take Yale for example. 12.3k students, $65k annual tuition, $800k in tuition income. And their operating budget is $100M. Student tuition is not a significant portion of most Universities income. Wealthy benefactors, patents, sports, investments, and grant money make up the balance.

        http://datahound.scientopia.org/2014/05/10/indirect-cost-rate-survey/

        1. “Student tuition is not a significant portion of most Universities income”

          As pointed out by Mojoe, they make $800 million out of tuitions, and spend $100 million on operation. That’s 100-1000x more money than what the researchers bring home in grants.

          It’s incredible how little money even top level research is getting. The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator fusion experiment for example is operating on a ridiculous €59 million budget per year, and that’s only because the labor costs turned out to be double their initial estimates. The Reaction Engines Ltd. team working on the Sabre rocket engine for the Skylon project is limping along with about £30 million yearly budget.

  3. I have serious doubt that they have figure out how to mass produce graphene cheaply outside of research labs. I would expect that by itself would have been HaD worthy news.

    1. Producing it cheaply is the easy part. We have been doing it for a few years now, and there are other groups that have been working on “roll-to-roll” synthesis also.
      http://phys.org/news/2015-05-graphene.html
      The problem is removing it from the substrate without tearing it, or with “in situ” synthesis so it does not need to be removed.
      One simple method (and by far the cheapest) is to use ultrasonically exfoliated graphene in suspension and spin coat your substrate. This gives you a coating of single and multi-layer graphene.
      Graphene is only useful (electrically) when single or very few layers are involved. Beyond that thickness you may as well vapor deposit a conventional metal or doped semiconductor layer (like ITO).

    2. >The researchers have designed and built a lab-scale version of the system, and found that when the ribbon is moved through at a rate of 25 millimeters (1 inch) per minute, a very uniform, high-quality single layer of graphene is created. When rolled 20 times faster, it still produces a coating, but the graphene is of lower quality, with more defects.

      That’s not mass production and not at the industrial scale needed for making products.

      1. That’s one paper, and one method.
        Graphene isn’t useful for much. It’s more of a lab curiosity at this point. It is interesting, but won’t change the world.
        Scale is the key to low cost, but it has so few advantages at this point, there is little reason for a company to invest millions in a production facility. Although Samsung has invested millions on research and patents.

        1. Isn’t useful for much? Wow, the ignorance in your comment is astounding (or you’re just a troll). Look up Robert Murray-Smith on YouTube, then proceed to his bulletproof plastic videos. That plastic is doped with graphene!! Graphene is far more than a “lab curiosity”, it’s an amazing material with some incredible properties. The physical strength of the material alone is enough to change the world. Perhaps you should do a bit of research before spouting such ignorant nonsense.

      2. 1 inch per minute is quite good. We sputter coat 8 foot wide sheets of float glass at a rate of 0.86 inches per minute with silicon carbide for low-E coating.
        So 1 inch per minute is mass production rate if scaled appropriately.

  4. – World peace commences about two weeks after that happens.

    Humankind was at war long before the oil industry and will be at war long after it. It will just be another different war: on territory because of overpopulation and food needs, clean water, breathable air, rare earth elements, etc.
    When time will come, I expect even rich countries armies to invade poor countries near the equator because of their favorable position for setting up space launch facilities.

  5. Graphene is hardly in the same class as cold fusion. Graphene’s existence and structure are well established what is missing is a viable way of creating it in bulk in useful quantities. While I agree that it may not pan out to be the material that will go on to give its name to a new age, as some have suggested, it will be an important material in the future

  6. I need to ask the obviously burning questions this article raises: What are you hoping to attract with your baited breath? Is there a universal bait for electron microscope owners? (Is it Doritos? Pizza? Beer?)

  7. Turnigy batteries are very reputable in the RC world. I myself have a lot of their Nano round cells and a few have taken a beating accidentally being discharged below 3V, large charge rates etc.
    If at least the cycle life is true, than they are damn worth it.
    DJI sells overpriced low discharge batteries claiming 300 cycles and usually they don’t even reach 100 cycles without so much sag that they are unsafe to fly.
    I don’t care what’s inside, if the claims are atleast near reality than these are awesome.
    Even jump starting a car shouldn’t hurt the higher capacity ones it seems.

    1. Yes i saw the same thing, in fact there are a few issues with this article.

      1)
      “The latest of which is graphene batteries from HobbyKing”
      “In the RC world, HobbyKing is known as being ‘good enough’. It’s not the best stuff you can get”
      – They are not made by Hobbyking, they are made by Turnigy, look at the bottom left of the picture you put there!

      2)
      “store about as much energy as the nano-tech batteries that have been around for years”
      Nano-Tech batteries are made by the same people that make the Graphene Batteries.

      3)
      “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”
      That is the Label Capacity
      Turnigy Normal Lipo 1300mah 107g
      Turnigy Nano Tech 1300mah 119g
      Turnigy Graphene 1300mah 138g
      HobbyKing specs says “-Higher capacity during heavy discharge.”
      Examples of how this works can be seen in normal
      Alkaline batteries, Look it up if you need an explanation.

      4)
      The biggest selling point (Which you barely mentioned when you complained about hype)
      Discharge, These Batteries can really throw around power!
      Turnigy Normal Lipo 1300mah Norm 30c/ Burst 40c
      Turnigy Nano Tech 1300mah Norm 45c/ Burst 90c
      Turnigy Graphene 1300mah Norm 65c/ Burst 130c
      (This also affects the capacity at high discharge rates)
      (and is why lithium AA batteries last longer compared to normal AAs)
      (even though they have a similar Mah)

      5)
      “the graphene battery should be lighter and smaller, not 20 grams heavier and 5 mm thicker”
      Wouldn’t a large part of that extra weight would be for heavier Wires due to the higher discharge?

      6) How can you say?
      “It’s also doubtful these batteries use a significant amount of graphene in their construction.”
      Well Duh, Thats kind of the point, The Description on HobbyKing says “single layer of graphene just 0.335nm thick”

  8. just being in the international warehouse only makes them even more QUESTIONABLE because maybe they will burn easier, be more shoddy, they dont intend to send the battery once after you pay or maybe even worse.

    they slapped a little graphene in the batteries and called them graphene it is like selling a cookie jar on ebay saying mint in box when it is a cookie jar that is not mint in box and include literally a mint in a box in the package with the cookie jar.

  9. The reason for graphene being so hyped is that is a super conductor at room temperature meaning no resistance ohms law and all that, i am no physicist but isn’t that a rarity for something that hasn’t been super-cooled, isn’t this the reason everyone is so interested in graphene, the manufacturing processes still have a long way to go before it can be as widely adopted as Lithium but the potential for making batteries smaller and more efficient is there. as with anything that comes from physics it takes a long time to go from applied physics to common engineering.

    1. Graphene exhibits a range of remarkable properties, in its pristine form, however, it is not a superconductor. Doped with Li it is with a Tc ~ 6K, which is somewhat lower than room temperature.

    2. Not a superconductor. It does have abnormally high conductivity when only one (or few) atoms thick when compared to any other atom thick layer of any single atomic composition material.

  10. I like how over half of this post is criticizing it and by the end you realize nobody actually knows anything about it’s performance or design..

    “nano-tech” batteries themselves are actually pretty under-tested and under-documented.

    1. Test it and make a Hackaday.io project out of it for us.

      The point was- I does not matter how it works. At this point it is another buzz word that the company threw on the package to try to sell more batteries. Adding graphene to a conventional lithium battery does nothing to increase it’s energy density.

      1. Oh you mean like “arduino”, “make”, “hackerspace”, “hackerfarm”, “bus pirate”, “geek”, “culture”(my favorite because it never is), “hacker”, “craft”, “rasberry pi”, “chip and pin”, “emv”, “NFC”, “gear”, “organization”?

        Where are the actual analysis that show this has little graphene? What little was criticized was that the battery performed “remarkebly well” but was too cheap.?

  11. “Is there real graphene in these batteries? We await an in-depth teardown, preferably with an electron microscope, with baited breath.”

    Would have been better to await a teardown and examination before writing an article that’s essentially claiming the battery is bogus – without any proof one way or the other.

  12. AFAIK as long as the batteries on average deliver what they are specified to deliver, doesn’t reall matter legally or ethically if actual graphene is use is the construction or not. Ad copy has always been questionable, go through the on line archives of Popular Mechanics or Popular Science for some doozies, many that are still used to this day. As long as the batteries perform as advertised in the spec list there’s no fraud that’s going to wreck the world economy.

    1. I don’t understand the negative tone of the “article”. Any progress in the battery market is good. Even if the only difference was cycle life, maybe it’ll make another company make something better.
      Everyone thinks that batteries will stay the same till 2025 and then BOOM someone makes a graphene 500Wh/kg battery or supercap. Bullcrap. The transition will be progressive, combining technologies for various markets.

      But this article did one thing well – informed me that they’re finally available to order. The doubtful tone doesn’t change the fact that this is good marketing for HK.

  13. Graphine Battery from Hobby King – on Chinese New Year no-less! What a joke. By the way, Graphine incarnate in most forms available today is very likely an extremely toxic material. Like asbestos on steroids.

  14. Till a Lipo, so it’s still finicky as hell on charging and discharging. LiFePo4 batteries are the future. I have one that is Abused badly, charged at full rate for hours after full charge, etc and it still after about 1500 cycles holds 100% capacity.

    I even forgot and left a 13.5V one on a standard car battery charger that actually only delivers about 20Amps of sawtooth noise at 15 volts for a few days and it was just fine.

    1. I’m scared and impressed. Well done sir. I was actually starting an electric car build centered around NiMH for this very reason, but your story about LiFePo4 cells might make me change gears. I only had about $1000 of NiMH cells to test with anyway. It’s not like I’m committed at this point. But… given that story you just told, no I do not want any assistance on the build as I prefer my garage un-incinerated. ;)

  15. I (re)discovered a while back that graphene could superconduct at room temperature, in one very specific configuration with a liquid carrier.
    The formula seems to be C:Li with small impurities of Pb in a MEK/acetone bath, saw 15% resistance drop under test at 281K but the critical temperature depends on lithium ion concentration.
    Needless to say continued research has refined this somewhat, a variant of the technology uses magnesium and lithium with a strontium antimony layer that acts like lead without the toxic side effects.
    Still needs a liquid carrier for now but it might work in the solid state if hydrogen is also present (possibly why MEK/acetone worked), increasing the lattice vibrational frequency and thus the Tc.

    1. Graphene is not a superconductor. Dopants can make it a super conductor at extremely low temperatures, but it will not be a super conductor in liquid suspension due to alteration of the Dirac points.
      Your suspension of graphene in a liquid with dissolved ions in it has altered your result and your interpretation of the results.
      Graphene can only be a superconductor on a crystalline dielectric substrate or freely suspended above a substrate.
      The effect you are seeing is the result of graphene having an anomalous quantum hall effect. The effect can be seen in the earths magnetic field at 293 K with un-doped graphene. Dopant ions alter this temperature.

  16. Graphene is present in most lithium batteries already, its called “specialized graphite” and is actually just regular graphite that has been chemically modified to host lithium ions by treating it with proprietry chemicals.
    In fact I discovered that it was possible to recover it from used phosphate cells if you are very careful and have the equipment to clean and dry it properly.

  17. Boutique batteries are about as old as the market FOR batteries.
    Two weeks from now, there will be yet another Li-on packed into sleek heatshrink and new colors on the label, and marketed as “NEW” and “IMPROVED”

    1. That doesn’t mean graphene has anything to do with the performance. No comparison was made to other other “non-graphene” Li-ion batteries of equal capacity.
      No lab tests were done. Only “see how long it will fly”.

          1. Again, it doesn’t mean it has graphene in it, or if graphene has anything to do with the improvement in performance.
            Simply increasing the surface area of the lithium produces the same result.

    2. It’s a multi-cell pack. The cells would need to be separated, and each cell tested under lab conditions. Charge time can be improved simply by making the lithium foil thinner. No proof is shown that indicates graphene has any involvement in the performance of the battery.

  18. At a time when household electricity was just beginning to be popular, manufacturers would print the magical buzzword “Electric” on their products to appear contemporary. Imagine a flat iron, one that you would heat on a wood stove, carrying the product name “The Electric”.

  19. A lot of people aren’t aware that graphene only has the amazing electrical properties everybody touts when it is a monolayer – that is, graphene. When you start adding more layers it quickly behaves more like graphite and you get a similar effect if you bond it to another surface or ‘coat’ things with it. One of the main issues at the moment is trying to create a strong enough and useful product without having to attach it to things to strengthen it. Source: I work at a research institute specialising in graphene.

    1. Exactly. And this battery is larger and heavier than a battery of the same capacity. This would indicate the improvement in charge / discharge rate is simply due to lower internal resistance by increasing the contact to the lithium foil, and/or increasing the thickness of the foil.

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