The Energizer Bunny had its fifteen minutes of fame in the 1990’s. Today, battery power is extending beyond gadgets, electronic devices, or cars. Typical batteries are becoming obsolete. Newer and more efficient forms of energy storage are taking the spotlight. Demands are high for cheaper, longer-lasting, and quicker-charging forms of power. Energy storage is advancing to new horizons as demands for environmentally friendly forms make way for new innovations.
One of these innovations is solar power. Sunlight is creating environmentally friendly, cost-efficient, and long-lasting energy in the places we reside. Holding massive amounts of energy in solar panels has been a challenge. Lithium-ion batteries have a high density but unfortunately cannot store energy in large enough quantities to power a building or house. What is the solution?
Enter graphene, a two-dimensional carbon material with extreme strength, transparency, and flexibility. Since its discovery in the early 2000’s, graphene has been improving battery performance in several ways. The material is simultaneously lightweight and strong, making it easy to handle. Its short charge time ultimately extends the battery’s life. It requires less carbon than conventional batteries, making it more cost-efficient. Studies show that graphene could double the amount of energy generated by a solar panel. In addition to conducting electrical energy, graphene can store it. That makes it one of the most desirable materials to hit the market. Graphine’s high storage capacity makes it more effective and also safer than Lithium-ion batteries.
As graphene reaches the solar energy industry, its effect is sure to be life-changing. Silicon is currently the material of choice in solar panels, but studies on graphene are showing its higher performing potential. When sunlight hits silicon, it releases a single electron. Graphene, by contrast, would release many more electrons, making it a very desired addition for solar energy. When will graphene be the obvious choice for solar panel energy storage? In time.
With graphene’s immense possibility comes certain challenges. Research on graphene is still in its infant stages. Its newness to the market makes it quite expensive to produce. Depositing graphene electrodes onto a solar cell involves complicated manipulation to its chemistry process. Graphene’s carbon atoms are arranged in a honeycomb pattern, making it flexible, lightweight, and stronger than steel. Converting light into electricity takes it only a femto-second (10−15 second), which is too fast to study easily.
Graphene is already changing the battery industry in other ways. Chinese company Dongxu Optoelectronics has used it in a laptop battery that charges in a few minutes rather than a few hours. Barcelona-based startup Earthdas has used it for batteries in that charge electric bicycles and motorcycles 12 times faster than a normal Lithium-ion battery. Mass production will require much more research on its properties and how to make them most effective for solar panels. Graphene’s importance is undeniable, but further research is required to determine its full capabilities. Until then, the future is bright with this much-needed material, albeit without the cute bunny ears.