Batteries foam party graphene battery rice u

Published on December 10th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Flakey New “Foam Party” Graphene Battery Breakthrough

December 10th, 2014 by  

Boy, does this look like fun. You got your flakes, your foam, your sheets of Kapton plastic, your laser, and you wake up in the morning with a hangover and a new type of super graphene battery. This interesting mashup comes to us by way of that dynamic duo of graphene, Rice University and the US Air Force (more on that later), so you know it’s got to be good.

For those of you new to the graphene topic, before we discovered nanocellulose fibers we were calling graphene the nanomaterial of the new millennium. Graphene is a sheet of carbon only one atom thick. This nano-slim frame provides it with exceptional strength and conductivity, dovetailing perfectly with new clean technology.

The problem is how to actually use something that is only one atom thick, and that’s where the graphene battery — the graphene supercapacitor, to be more precise — comes in.

foam party graphene battery rice u

Microsupercapacitors etched on a common plastic (screenshot, courtesy of the Tour Group).

The Rice University Graphene Battery

A supercapacitor is a type of battery that charges and discharges rapidly, so we’re going to just simplify things by calling it a battery most of the time.

The Rice team made their new graphene microsupercapacitor (same thing as a supercapacitor but smaller) using a process they call LIG, for laser induced graphene.

They solved the first problem — how to use something that is only one atom thick — by creating their graphene battery on a base of plastic film. That took some doing, as it turned out that not all plastic film is equal when it comes to graphene batteries.


They finally nailed it when they got to polyimide, a heat-resistant plastic film that’s been around for about 50 years or so.

The rest of the setup is relatively simple. Instead of trying to layer single-atom sheets of graphene onto the plastic, the team applied a porous foam of graphene flakes.

This graphene “jumble” was carefully engineered to consist of flakes with five-, six-, and seven-atom rings. If you’re familiar with the six-sided chickenwire structure of graphene sheets, the inclusion of five-and-seven atom flakes may seem like a mistake, and it is a mistake, but it is a deliberate mistake.

The five-and-seven atom rings are considered defects, but these so-called defects can be deployed as desirable, performance-enhancing features.

While not nearly as slim as a single-atom graphene sheet, the 20-micron layer of foam still possesses some of its superior qualities.

Once you plaster your graphene foam onto the plastic base, then you run down the hall to the university’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and ask them if you can borrow one of their shop lasers to etch a supercapacitor into it. Calling Julia Child!

The process exposes the foam while leaving the base intact. Here’s an actual image of the end result, with that white bar in the lower right-hand corner showing the scale of one millimeter:

foam graphene battery

As for performance, here’s the rundown from Rice:

The best results showed capacitance of more than 4 millifarads per square centimeter and power density of about 9 milliwatts per square centimeter, comparable to other carbon-based microsupercapacitors, and negligible degradation after as many as 9,000 charge/discharge cycles.

Next Steps For A Graphene Battery

So, now that you have a usable form of graphene. The next question is whether or not you can scale the process up to commercial size, and then after that you have to worry about hitting a price point that will enable your new graphene battery to compete in the market.

The Rice team is pretty confident on those point. In terms of scalability, the etching is a one-step laser writing process commonly used in modern industry.

As for price, the plastic in question is inexpensive polyimide in the form of flexible sheets, which you can get under the brand name Kapton (thanks, DuPont!). The flexible base also translates into ease of handling, shipping, and application.

As an aside, the petro-plastic angle isn’t particularly sustainable but some time in the sparkly green future you could be looking at a graphene battery based on bioplastic.

Where were we? Oh, right. The whole process can take place at room temperature in a relatively relaxed environment, which cuts down on expensive furnaces and workplace controls.

Don’t hold your breath for that EV battery based on foam graphene. Rice has another graphene battery approach that seems like a more likely pathway, and then of course Tesla is eyeballing the EV graphene battery, too.

The best results so far indicate that the flexible foam battery could be used for inexpensive wearable electronic devices but stay tuned, the Tour Group is already setting its sights on some improvements.

As for that Air Force thing, the Air Force is all over graphene, partly because light + strong = perfect for flight, so it’s no surprise that the Air Force chipped in for the new Rice research along with the US Navy and other agencies.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • howardajohnson

    What’s the scaled up power density projected to be? Better than lithium ion?

  • Joseph Dubeau

    That was a rumor in “China’s Xinhua news agency” that was floating around this summer. The problem with graphene is lithium doesn’t stick to it.
    There is no chemical reactions.
    Graphite is used in the battery’s electrodes in some batteries.

  • Marion Meads

    “The best results showed capacitance of more than 4 millifarads per
    square centimeter and power density of about 9 milliwatts per square
    centimeter, comparable to other carbon-based microsupercapacitors, and
    negligible degradation after as many as 9,000 charge/discharge cycles.”

    Their best results is a kind of big let down. Three long years ago, Dr. Xie and his research team used a polystyrene-based polymer to deposit the soft, foldable membrane that, when sandwiched between and charged by two metal plates, could store charge at 200 millifarads per square centimeter, which is 50 times the best performance of this graphene flake mashup! And that was 3 years ago. Are we devolving or what?

    Here’s the 3 year old reference:

    • Offgridman

      That was an interesting reference for the time, but its cost was quoted at 500-1000$/Kwh saying that it was better than the current Li-ion cost of 2000$/Kwh, and no suggestion of usable life before degradation as this project has verified.
      Since that time the costs of lithium storage have come way down in comparison to then, and my search showed no further attempts at trying to utilize this process.
      Did the necessary metals prove to expensive, was commercial production not practical, did degradation occur to soon?
      A lot of various issues that we have no way of knowing that this project has already resolved.
      If the process you referenced was commercially feasible it seems that we would have heard something more about it by now. Since not it is good that there are new attempts at finding different methods.

  • omar

    If this is true i expect the combustion egngine companies to close in one year

    • Matt

      No price given, so you close in a year is way off. Not to mention that large scale product is most likely more than a year off.

      • omar

        This is a breakthrough in scalability the matariel is already there years ago

  • JamesWimberley

    The owl’s name is apparently Sammy.

    • Marion Meads

      Your owl is facing the other way. Flip the image horizontally and there you have it.

      • JamesWimberley

        Or go to the other end of the owl’s tunnel.

    • Guest

      Perhaps Sammy is a Great Grey Owl, Strix nebulosa, or once truth in zoological nomenclature laws get passed, a Freak Eyed Owl:

      • JamesWimberley

        A difficult choice between a good match to Rice’s laser image and a plausible habitat. The great grey is a bird of the boreal forest, far to the north of Texas, while the burrowing owl is local. I refuse however to get drawn into an owl cuteness flame war.

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