It used to be that you’d charge your phone once a week. Of course, this was back when all you did was text and actually call people. Now, with smartphones continually increasing in size, power and complexity, the demands on batteries are much more aggressive.
Lithium-ion cells have risen to the challenge, powering all modern smartphones, tablets, and a variety of smart devices, but you’d be lucky to get more than a day or so out of a single charge. With the variety of energy-hungry devices showing no signs of abating, and the potentially devastating impact this will have on the already fragile environment, manufacturers are looking for new, more efficient ways to deliver power to our screens. One name that looms large on the horizon is graphene, and we take a look at what this revolutionary material could bring to the table.
What is graphene?
Graphene is incredible. It has been described as "atomic chicken wire" due to its honeycomb structure, but this amazing substance is just a single atom thick. It's an allotrope of carbon and has a variety of surprising properties which could well mean it is the new wonder material that can be used to make a multitude of uses.
These wonders have been speculated about for many years, with the original concept put forward in 1947, but it took until 2004 for the substance to be produced as a single layer by scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, earning them both the 2010 Nobel prize for Physics in the process.
So, what does graphene offer in practical terms? Well, as the material is incredibly strong, lightweight, and can store energy efficiently, it offers the perfect balance for a new type of battery.
Is graphene better than Lithium-ion?
Lithium-ion has been a hugely successfully technology for smartphones, allowing devices to become ridiculously powerful thanks to the capabilities of the batteries to store energy and deliver it safely and consistently.
The problem is that lithium-ion cells are still restricted in how long they can last, deteriorate in performance over time (as you’ll know if you keep your smartphones for more than a couple of years), and are still physically large when compared to the thinness with which phone manufacturers are obsessed.
The latest fast-charging technology mean you can get back up to full power from empty in only an hour or so, but doing that also takes a toll on battery health.
The promise of graphene is that thanks to its ability not only to conduct both electricity and heat in a highly efficient manner, but also its strength and extreme lightness, it can be used to create batteries that hold much larger capacities than current Lithium-ion models, but also recharge in a fraction of the time.
Open up a smartphone today (actually, don’t do this as they are all glued together now) and you’ll see that its battery takes up a large proportion of the volume. If this could be reduced through the use of graphene then manufacturers could pack even more tech into the same space or reduce the overall size of the handset itself, all while delivering longer battery life and ultra-fast recharging.
When will graphene batteries arrive?
In a way, graphene has already made its way into the smartphone market. The Huawei Mate 20 X, below, and Mate 30 Pro incorporate a graphene film into its cooling system, which drastically reduces heat even when used for heavy gaming – one of the other benefits of the material.
But, the first fully graphene battery powered smartphone is heavily rumoured to be coming from Samsung in 2020 or 2021, possibly in one of its flagship Galaxy range. Evan Blass (@evleaks), a tech blogger who often manages to acquire accurate scoops of new products, tweeted that ‘Samsung is hoping to have at least one handset either next year or in 2021, I’m told, which will feature a graphene battery instead. Capable of a full charge in under half an hour’.
This isn’t surprising, as the Korean company has already pioneered the use of the graphene within Lithium-ion batteries to improve capacity and charging speeds.
Other manufacturers are also exploring graphene, and we’ve recently reviewed the new Elecjet Powerbank which uses a graphene composite that means it can be fully recharged in 18 minutes, then used to recharge a standard smartphone twice.
While graphene is unlikely to be widespread in the next year or so, the promise of its many wonders looks set to arrive in the very near future and could mark a serious step forward for mobile technology as well as in other sectors.