The Little Things

Samsung Exploits Graphene for New Battery Tech

Researchers at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology have developed a material they call a “graphene ball”, which could boost battery capacity by 45 percent and offer charging speeds five times faster than current lithium-ion batteries. Scientists collaborated with other teams within the Samsung group as well researchers from Seoul National University.

It’s intriguing to think of the potential of this new technology, particularly considering the desire for longer battery life and quick battery top-ups. Samsung says its new material will enable batteries to get a complete charge in only 12 minutes, while remaining relatively cool. This compares with existing technologies that could need hours for a satisfying fill and, for larger batteries, an overnight charge to reach 100 percent.

Technologies such as Qualcomm’s Quick Charge allow users to quickly refill the battery of their smartphone, with five or 10 minutes of charging providing enough power for several hours of device usage. But there’s a sense that existing lithium-ion batteries and related charging technologies are reaching their limitations. Samsung’s new material is a potential enhancement, rather than a threat to lithium-ion batteries, which have been around for more than 25 years.

Samsung has filed patents in the US and South Korea for its graphene ball technology, but a commercial launch date is yet unknown. New battery technologies are notoriously difficult to commercialise because of safety and regulatory problems and no company knows this better than Samsung, given the challenges it had with the Galaxy Note7. But Samsung is both the world’s largest smartphone maker and a major supplier of components to other handset brands. Few other companies have the clout to get something like this to market.

Samsung’s enabling technology, graphene, is seen as a futuristic super ingredient and the potential applications of the material are expected to affect many industries. For example, it’s enabling a new generation of capacitors, the creation of ultrastrong and lightweight building materials and the development of new medical solutions.

Graphene is classified as a type of nanotechnology, the science of manipulating material at the atomic level. Nanotech, which refers to a length scale where a nanometre is one billionth of a metre, has immense long-term implications for mobile devices beyond batteries. It’s expected to lead to new device designs as well as completely new classes of devices, potentially disrupting the current concept of a smartphone.

It’s always exciting to see a type of nanotechnology implemented by a major smartphone maker. It whets the appetite for the future and we expect a lot more noise in the coming years. Leading smartphone makers have been gathering talent and have groups dedicated to developing and deploying very small technologies. With time, implementations will be truly meaningful.