Tag: monash university

Better notebook batteries – we sure as heck need them

The news that scientists at Monash University are developing systems that might end in superfast rechargeable batteries will come as a boon to anyone who uses a notebook PC.

Ex-Intel engineer Bob Metcalfe famously said some years ago that what “[Andy] Grove gives, [Bill] Gates takes away.”

Every little bit of software eats up battery life, and the peculiar thing is that there hasn’t been very much improvement in life over the last goodness knows how many years.

Of course, the energy pull on your notebook is also considerably reduced by better functionality, by the type of graphics card you have, and most importantly by the display.  The industry has long realised that this has been a problem but the measures it’s taken and the prospects it’s offered – including small fuel cells – have never really materialised. Sure, you can turn down the brightness to extend the battery life a little bit but then you have to really really peer to see what you’re doing.

I’ve used notebooks now since 1986 – over all of those years I’ve had many models but getting more than a few hours without plugging them in has always been a struggle. What really annoys me is that Windows “metre” that one minute tells you have four hours remaining and the next minute tells you you have 20 minutes.  Windows 7 deciding to update you on closedown gets a little bit frightening if you’re nowhere near a socket.

You could argue that if we weren’t using X86 processors and Microsoft Windows we might be happy with the life we get out of li-ion batteries, but they’re not going to go away any time soon now. Sure, netbooks achieve longer battery life, but that’s at the expense of overall functionality.

The boffins at Monash didn’t indicate when we will actually see graphene like batteries in our machine – there are no doubt many obstacles to commercialising the concept and the University didn’t even attempt to estimate when we get our greedy hands on them.

It will be really great to have a notebook that I don’t have to fret over all the time when I’m out on the road covering the technology business. I wonder if it will happen before I shuffle off my mortal coil?

Graphene gel means high speed, long lasting batteries

Graphene – is there anything it can’t do?

Probably. It’ll never score a top ten hit, but following a discovery by researchers at Monash University, the wonder material has added yet another string to its bow.

The team of scientists has developed a method of using the material to recharge batteries at lightning speed, with the mere addition of a splash of tap water.

According to Dr Dan Li, the lead researcher, the graphene discovery means that with some tweaking it could be possible to charge up an iPhone in seconds, or even less.

This means performing on par with lithium ion batteries, as well as the potential for it to last indefinitely.

Having been discovered by two scientists at the University of Manchester mucking around with sticky tape, the Nobel prize winning material’s astounding properties have already seen it used in some fascinating ways.

For example it could be used to create modulators for ‘extremeband’ internet speeds, or a new generation of supercapacitors, while IBM has already begun to use graphene in computer chip design.

And now the material could be used in energy storage applications thanks to its extremely high surface area and conductivity.

These properties are a result of breaking down cheap and readily available graphite into one atom thick layers.

However, as the researchers were aware, problems arise when the material is restacked.

According to Dr Li, when the material is combined into a macrostructure it loses much of its surface area and ceases to behave like graphene any more.

However, they were able to solve this problem by simply adding water.

By keeping the graphene moist the team was, crucially, able to prevent the sheets from restacking, meaing its original properties remain.

The resulting graphene gel nanomaterial has a range of potential applications in energy storage, holding a large amount of charge and expending it at high speeds.

Dr Li believes that it could be beneficial for more effective delivery of renewable energy sources, and could push large scale adoption of electrical vehicles.

There are also possible uses for the gel in water purification membranes, and biomedical devices and sensors.