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Samsung Electronics has developed core battery technology using graphene to make lithium-ion batteries last longer and charge more quickly, a potential industry milestone if mass produced.

The South Korean conglomerate said on Monday that its research arm — Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) — has successfully synthesised “graphene balls” that can boost its battery capacity by 45 per cent and increase charging speed by five times the existing standards. 

Graphene has been touted in the global electronics industry as a “miracle material” given its strength, electrical conductivity and elasticity, and has been seen as an ideal alternative to lithium-ion batteries since its discovery in 2004. It is a form of carbon that ideally can be used to develop smaller, slimmer batteries but with higher capacity.

Samsung said the graphene-based battery would take just 12 minutes to be fully charged; current lithium-ion batteries take about an hour. The new battery also could be used for electric vehicles, as it can maintain stability at up to 60 degrees Celsius. 

The company has stepped up its research into battery technology in the wake of last year’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone safety debacle. The recall and subsequent withdrawal of the fire-prone model cost the company more than $5bn, and some of the phones caught fire due to faulty lithium-ion batteries, according to Samsung.

SAIT has developed a way to use silica to synthesise graphene like three-dimensional popcorn, and use the graphene “balls” as material for advanced lithium-ion batteries, the company said. Samsung has applied for patents for the technology in South Korea and the US. 

According to experts, graphene is more energy efficient so it allows room for other cathode materials. As a result, smartphones with graphene-based batteries can be slimmer and lighter but with a greater battery capacity.

Graphene, which in its basic form is a single sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a lattice, can be used in flexible displays, wearables and other next-generation electronic devices. But while lithium-ion battery technology — first commercialised in 1991 — is seen to be reaching its limitations, experts caution it will be years before graphene-based battery technology is ready for commercialisation. 

“It is a great technology with various potential applications but it will take a long time for graphene-based batteries to be mass produced,” said Kim Young-woo at SK Securities. “The key is who can commercialise the technology first. It won’t be easy to apply the minute processing technology for large-scale production of high-quality, electronics-grade graphene.” 

SAIT has been leading Samsung’s core technology development and opened a lab for artificial intelligence research in Canada earlier this year. It also developed Samsung’s new TV technology using cadmium-free quantum dot materials.

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