Graphene Enables Battery Breakthough Says Fisker

Henrik Fisker’s first attempt at building an electric car went up in flames — literally. The batteries were sourced from A123, a pioneering lithium ion battery company that may have been slightly ahead of its time. You may recall that early lithium ion batteries had a tendency to overheat and burst into flames 5 years ago. A123 batteries were one of the main reasons lithium ion batteries got that reputation.

Henrik Fisker claims graphene battery breakthrough
Henrik Fisker in 2012. Credit: Fisker Automotive

A123 took a bankruptcy bath in 2012. Oddly enough, its assets were purchased by Wanxiang, the Chinese company that also bought the remains of Henrik Fisker’s first automobile company. It is about to put an updated version of the original Fisker Karma into production, although Fisker’s name is no longer associated with it. It is now called the Karma Revero.

Henrik Fisker has never given up his dream of making electric cars or his fascination with batteries. Earlier this month, he announced the formation of a new company — Fisker, Inc. — to manufacture automobiles and another new company — Fisker Nanotech — to make the batteries for those cars. Now it emerges that Fisker Nanotech will manufacture an entirely new energy storage product that is a marriage between a graphene supercapacitor and a lithium ion battery.

Graphene is the thinnest and strongest material on earth but its use in power storage applications is quite recent. In 2010, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, whose research revealed many possible uses for graphene, including its potential as a battery that can conduct energy better and charge faster.

“Graphene shows a higher electron mobility, meaning that electrons can move faster through it. This will charge a battery much faster,” says Lucia Gauchia, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and energy storage systems at Michigan Technological University. “Graphene is also lighter and it can present a higher active surface, so that more charge can be stored.”

Fisker Nanotech will be headed by Jack Kavanaugh. Until recently, he was part of Nanotech Energy, a group of UCLA researchers specializing in perfecting graphene supercapacitors. Supercaps, as they are called, store electrical energy like a battery but have much faster charge times. Their drawback is that they have low power density.

“The challenge with using graphene in a supercapacitor in the past has been that you don’t have the same density and ability to store as much energy,” Kavanaugh says. “We have solved that issue with technology we are working on. Altering the structure of the graphene has allowed them to improve the supercapacitor’s energy density.”

Despite its wondrous properties, until now graphene has been very expensive to manufacture. Kavanaugh claims the company has invented a new machine that can lower the price to just 10 cents per gram. That’s the breakthrough that will make graphene suitable for commercial production instead of just being a laboratory curiosity.

“This particular technology that we’re working on and are using for Fisker Nanotech is a hybrid,” Kavanaugh says. “We have been able to take the best of what supercapacitors can do and the best of what batteries can do and are calling it a super battery.” Henrik Fisker adds, “Our battery technology is so much better than anything out there. [It] is the first battery technology that has taken the major leap, the next big step.”

Henrik Fisker says his new company will start by making a luxury sedan priced to compete with the upper end of the Tesla Model S range. But he also has plans for what he calls a consumer-friendly electric car that will be in “an even lower cost segment of both the [Chevy] Bolt and the Model 3. We will have the lowest cost electric vehicle in the world,” he boasts, although Storm Sonders may have something to say about that. Both cars will have a range of 400 miles, Fisker claims.

There is much skepticism about Fisker and his promises after his first attempt at building an electric car came to grief. The tech world is full of claims about astounding breakthroughs in battery technology that will slash the cost of electric cars and make them affordable to anyone who wants one. “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.

Source: Business Insider

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.