Estonian startup Skeleton Technologies is reportedly developing a graphene-enhanced “SuperBattery” that can be charged in just 15 seconds, and can go through hundreds of thousands of charge-recharge cycles without degrading. It was also reported that Skeleton recently signed a €1 billion letter of intent with a leading automotive manufacturer to bring the technology to market, most likely in 2023 according to Taavi Madiberk, founder and chief executive of Skeleton.
“This will be a key enabler of the energy transition,” says Madiberk. “In most cases we see that batteries are not able to fully replace the older technologies — we still have hybrid vehicles or the need for backup generators.”
Skeleton’s graphene-based battery is hoping to help bridge the gap where lithium-ion batteries or hydrogen fuel cells are still not quite meeting energy requirements. The company has announced a partnership with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to complete the development.
Electric cars will be a key use case, as slow recharge times are still one of the major headaches for electric vehicle owners.
Also, lithium-ion batteries degrade over time, limiting their lifespans. The warranties offered on electric cars are telling: Renault offers a three-year warranty for the Zoe, Nissan covers the Leaf for five years and Tesla gives an eight-year warranty to Model S drivers.
Developing batteries that can overcome some of these issues is a Holy Grail for the auto industry.
Supercapacitors — which store charge in an electrical field, without the need for a chemical reaction to release it — have been considered as one potential answer. Supercapacitors charge up fast and can deliver a powerful energy kick to a vehicle, but they have one big drawback: they are not good at storing energy in the long term, so they are of little use for long car journeys.
Combining some elements of supercapacitors with lithium-ion batteries to get the best of both is an attractive approach. “We looked at the dry electrode route that Tesla is exploring, but decided to go a different way,” says Madiberk. “Tesla is trying to go for maximum energy, but we are looking at the most efficient way of getting power.”
The SuperBattery combines the way supercapacitors store charge in electrical fields with a small amount of “wet” chemical reaction to allow the batteries to store energy for longer.
Madiberk says the battery is designed to be used in combination with lithium-ion batteries or even hydrogen fuel cells.
“We are not a silver bullet or a complete solution on our own. You won’t have long-range electric vehicles running purely on our technology. But combining a lithium-ion battery with a SuperBattery can reduce charging time, as well as the overall cost and weight of the battery system in the car. We are a building block in developing a much more efficient system.”
“European research in energy storage — especially in Germany — is clearly some of the best in the world,” he adds. “It is just that our ability to commercialize it is not as good. That’s where we come in. Maybe we can change that.”