Most people know graphite from its use in the humble pencil or in anodes for lithium-ion batteries, but it can also be turned into graphene — an atom thin sheet of carbon, noted for its incredible strength and conductivity.

The material is now used in electronics, sensors, aircraft, green tech solutions, industrial robotics and sporting equipment.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have even proven that graphene has eight to 10 times the stopping power of steel and is twice as effective as Kevlar at stopping bullets.

It can be used in supercapacitors in power units where rapid charge and discharge is required – from marine power, to air-conditioning, mobiles and high-performance vehicles – anything that needs high power in the short term.

And market researchers predict the graphene industry will surpass US$1 billion by 2023.

Supercapacitors complement lithium-ion batteries

But its supercapacitors use in conjunction with lithium-ion batteries that is really interesting.

Far East Capital recently flagged that supercapacitors and lithium-ion batteries could work very well together in the heavy transport sector.

Essentially, because supercapacitors are known for their high-power density ratings, they can discharge and recharge rapidly without deteriorating over time.

For example, when a truck brakes, the kinetic energy can feed the supercapacitor and then the power stored can be called upon quickly when the truck starts to accelerate.

Lithium-ion batteries can take over when the trucks approach cruising speeds, but while they can discharge quickly to allow rapid acceleration from a standing start, they do wear out over time.

Enhancing performance and range

First Graphene (ASX:FGR) non-executive director Dr. Andy Goodwin said supercapacitors could enhance the performance and extend the range of batteries.

“Supercapacitors are particularly good in high charge and high discharge situations such as regenerative braking, acceleration and stop/start,” he said.

“They also effectively manage spikes in non-EV applications such as cooling and air conditioning systems.

“When you use a supercapacitor in combination with batteries, they help the battery through these high power in and out cycles, enhancing performance and extending the range of battery.”


The market opportunity could reach US$720m

Dr Goodwin said the supercapacitor device market is estimated at about US$720 million over the next couple of years – and the company is working on graphene materials that will be attractive to the EV market.

“First Graphene manufactures a new, hybrid graphene material that’s also got high capacitance (of greater than 140 farads per gram),” he said.

“We achieve this by growing nanoscale metal oxides directly onto the surface of our graphene platelets, outperforming competitive solutions which are often just simple mixtures of these same materials.

“The key for First Graphene is that our materials offer a route to higher energy and higher power density supercapacitors which makes them attractive in the electric vehicle marketplace.”

On the path to commercialisation

The company is now at the stage where it can make the graphene materials and can scale the systems up – but in parallel FGR has been working on the key components that contribute to a high performing supercapacitor cell.

“It’s not just about the electrode materials,” Dr Goodwin said. “It’s about the electrode materials working well in conjunction with the other elements, such as the electrolyte and the separators, everything that makes the device.”

Funded with UK grant

And the company recently nabbed £15,000 funding from Innovative UK EDGE to work on its supercapacitor graphene hybrid materials with the Energy Innovation Centre based at Warwick Manufacturing Group.

“What [the funding] allows us to do is to combine some of the different components and test a meaningful prototype cell, which in this case, will be a pouch cell,” Dr Goodwin said.

“Then we’re working with device manufacturers to design and construct an initial commercial cell.

“We’re aiming to have the next phase through in 2022 and right now, we’re welcoming additional inquiries from device makers.”

Plus, it’s not just supercapacitors that benefit from FGR’s materials. Beyond energy storage, the company’s PureGRAPH® graphene products are being tested in a range of sectors including plastics, rubbers, coatings, and concrete.

And if that wasn’t enough, the company has just secured a UK patent for coating anode particles with graphene which enables the use of silicon as battery anodes – and the process even produces hydrogen gas as a byproduct.