BRISBANE-based Graphene Manufacturing Group (GMG) says its newly developed graphene aluminium-ion batteries may change electric vehicle technology as we know it by offering less weight, faster charging, a longer life and better environmental credentials than their lithium-ion counterparts.
With sights on the global battery market – estimated to be valued at $50 billion by the middle of this century – GMG says its battery technology can be purposed for a variety of applications, encompassing everything from coin-cell batteries for key fobs through to the utility-scale battery packs used to power electric vehicles.
Further, graphene aluminium-ion batteries offer “three to five times” the energy density of lithium-ion cells and cannot catch fire, offering obvious safety benefits in vehicles both in the event of a collision and where thermal runaway events can cause significant fires, like the one that destroyed the Volkswagen-leased cargo vessel, the Felicity Ace, in 2021.
Further, graphene aluminium-ion batteries are not lethal if swallowed, as lithium-ion batteries can be, are completely recyclable, and require no cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, or other rare earth metals to be mined for their production.
Speaking to GoAuto this week, Graphene Manufacturing Group founder and managing director Craig Nichol – a former Shell executive – said he was confident his company’s graphene aluminium-ion batteries can help address many of the issues surrounding the production of toxic lithium-ion batteries, while also offering longer life and up to 70 times faster charging capabilities.
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for this technology in automotive applications, especially given how well it performs in fast-charging and regenerative braking conditions,” said Mr Nichol.
“There is a massive need for batteries ahead of us, especially over the next 10 to 15 years, and while it may take us a while to reach scale, we are working on getting our battery technology into the market as fast as we can.”
GMG’s proprietary manufacturing process forms graphene powder directly from natural gas, bringing with it obvious environmental benefits. The powder is then compressed into pellet form and implanted with microscopic aluminium ions using nanotechnology developed in part with the University of Queensland.
Mr Nichol said the process is more cost effective and environmentally friendlier than the traditional method of forming graphene from graphite, which makes the long-term scalability of the technology comparable to that currently utilised in the production of lithium-ion cells.
The manufacturing process of graphene aluminium-ion batteries produces hydrogen as a by-product, offering further uses within the transportation industry to power fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).
“I think we don’t give enough consideration to how the materials that go into current battery technology are sourced,” Mr Nichols told GoAuto.
“Mining is incredibly resource intensive and, at the current time, it isn’t conducted in a way that is environmentally effective – we’re just not sourcing these materials in a sustainable way right now and there are a lot of materials being used that have questionable provenance.
“With our technology, we simply have graphene and aluminium, and at the end of the battery’s life, the aluminium is recycled, and the graphene reused. Our expectation is that we will be making the process almost entirely emissions-free or very close to it because we’ll be making hydrogen as a by-product as well.
“Of course, aluminium mining is currently an intensive process, but Rio Tinto is working on a new process that is emissions-free as well; that’s why we’re working so closely with them – we’re hoping, driving forward, that we can offer a truly emissions-free battery, and one that can be used multiple times over.”
Mr Nichols said GMG’s graphene aluminium-ion batteries have the potential to form just part of the solution for electric vehicle motivation in future, and said he was encouraged by conversations with manufacturers that are looking at a range of battery technologies for future use within their vehicles.
“The manufacturers we’ve been talking with want to understand what all the different technologies available are, but they’re particularly interested in what we’re able to offer because it has the opportunity to change the whole (electric vehicle) space,” he explained.
“For example, the way our batteries are designed, and the way cars are designed, means the battery ‘pack’ wouldn’t necessarily need to be in the one place, it can be placed in multiple parts of the car to better distribute weight.
“The other important factor is that we’re able to offer direct current, which means manufacturers can use direct drive DC motors. AC motors really consume a lot more power than they actually need, and that’s basically because the chemistry offered by lithium-ion batteries means they need to be manufactured as an AC pack.
“There’s a lot of design requirements built into electric cars to accommodate that requirement, essentially all based around the lithium atom.
“When you provide another kind of atom, you bring a lot of different opportunities, and we see that with solid-state batteries as well. And that’s the critical point here, to meet demand we will need all these actors.
“We’ll find our space, and then maybe grow out of that space over time as other technologies evolve. But right now, there’s a need that we must all work together to meet, that’s the most important thing.”
GMG will start producing coin-size batteries from next year before moving to ‘pouch pack’ units in 2024. Mr Nichols said that with a less intensive material base and lower overall weight – which pays obvious dividends on a logistics front – he is confident the batteries produced by his company will also be more cost-effective than those available currently.
“We should be able to offer a lower cost, that’s for sure. Not only is there a lower material cost associated with our batteries, but they’re also a lot cheaper to put together. Once we put one into a car, I think the weight savings will be of benefit to do. But having said that, this is a new technology as we have a bit of catching up to do,” he said.
“Lithium-ion technology has been developed over the past 30 to 40 years, and we’re really now looking at just the first two years of this (graphene aluminium-ion) technology. But it’s very exciting to see the potential in it; having three times the energy density means an EV could travel three times further or potentially be one-third of the weight of a lithium-ion powered model.
“And the ability to fast charge and to last three to five times as long as a lithium-ion battery – most of which are warranted for only eight years – that’s something I think is very important for people considering an EV. It’s a very complex mix of requirements, but our technology is able to bring those elements together, and it will only get lighter and smaller over time.”
According to the Australian Financial Review, GMG is listed on the TSX Venture exchange in Canada with a market cap of approximately $300 million. The firm is also using graphene technology to improve insulative coatings used in air-conditioning and ventilation systems, combustion engine radiators and associated cooling components, and in spray paints and automotive fluids.
The AFR reports that GMG has already signed an informal partnership with global mining giant Rio Tinto around integrating some of its energy-saving technologies into its operations as well as the supply of aluminium for GMG’s commercial battery operations.