Why aren't we powering everything with tiny, fast, biodegradable "batteries"?
Richard Kaner: A lot of times, experiments and science or discoveries look like accidents. But there are only accidents in a sense that we are trying to find something else and then, we realize that what we had was better for a different application.
Graphene is a single sheet carbon. It is one of the strongest materials ever known and it is completely flexible. The discoverers of graphene won the Nobel Prize in 2010. However, the method they used to make it, which was taking graphite and peeling it with scotchtape, is not practical. So, we set out to find a better method. We started with graphite oxide, which is a water-dispersible material. We, then, coated on to sheets of plastic. We hit it with a light from a laser. They oxygenates. It turns it into graphene.
Maher El-Kady: So [inaudible] is exciting because we made all organic graphene in a very simple process using consumer grade DVD drive that you can find everywhere.
Richard Kaner: But the real discovery was yet to come. I think the eureka moment that you're looking for was not exactly that. The real exciting discovery came when Maher dragged me into the lab and he said; "take a look at this." And he just took a lightbulb and he just turned it on with this little piece of graphene. But then, the amazing thing is, it doesn't stop working. After charging for two or three seconds, he ran this light for over five minutes. I though we had something very important. I thought the world changed at that point.
Maher El-Kady: Okay, let's talk about the future.
Richard Kaner: Batteries have a bad reputation. But what we're working on are supercapacitors. And supercapacitors, you can think of as a charge source device like a battery except it charges and discharges a hundred to a thousand times faster. A battery stores a fair amount of charge but it charges and discharges slowly. A capacitor puts out a high output but it doesn't store much charge. So it is like a flash to a camera. A supercapacitor is one which combines the best attributes of both.
If you think about all the electronic devices you have. Right now, everytime you need one, you realize; "Oh, I forgot to charge it up." But imagine if you can take that same device, plug it on the wall for 30 seconds or a minute and be ready to go. Life would be very different. And eventually, we'll get to things like electronic vehicles. Now, you'd pull into gas stations. Well, soon, you'd pull into a charging station. Within a minute, it would charge up your car.
If you think of batteries, they are composed of a lot of metals. Often, they are toxic metals. And so in fact, you're not allowed to throw a battery away. But if you had something that's carbon-based, it wouldn't matter. You could put it in your compost bin and use it to grow vegetables.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist. And so, my goal has always been to develop something that will change people's lives.