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China’s Adoption of Graphene for High-Tech Applications

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Graphene has been gathering interest for a number of high–tech applications over the years, but many of the commercial developments have been in the lower–tech, easier–to–market industries. Graphene is now starting to penetrate higher–technology markets, and China is currently one of the frontrunning nations for adopting more advanced graphene products at a commercial level and holds one of the largest shares of the global graphene market.

This comes as no surprise, as China has invested a lot into the industry over the years, and many of the non–scientific populace are familiar with graphene, so market adoption has been met with more interest than in other regions. In this article, we look at some of the high–tech graphene applications that have already come to fruition in China.

The information regarding China’s defense and military applications has always been held tight, so this section is the least reported on in terms of the high–tech graphene developments coming out of China. However, while it was never independently verified (for the reasons stated above about closed information), it has been announced that the People’s Liberation Army’s Z–10 attack helicopter has been enhanced with extra graphene armor.

A Z-10 displayed at 2012 China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition. (Source: Wikipedia; User: 3GO*CHN-405/mjordan_6)

Previous models did not have this armor due to weight constraints, but it’s thought that the lightweight nature of graphene has offered an opportunity to add this extra armor to the helicopter to protect its cockpit and the fuel tanks. Even though this was announced a while ago, there have not yet been any further confirmations on whether the whole fleet of Z–10 attack helicopters have adopted this graphene armor or if this was more of a one–off showcase.

Given the need for a greater energy density and faster charging times, nanomaterials have started to make waves in the batteries of electric vehicles (EVs), and graphene is among them. While more global companies have started to look toward graphene batteries, the first commercial graphene battery is coming out of China from Gac Group. Gac Group is using graphene in the batteries of their Aion V SUVs, and the cars are expected to be available to consumers by the end of 2022. While other graphene batteries are being developed for EVs around the world, they won’t hit the market for a few years.

While EVs are the biggest potential market, several other graphene batteries have also entered the Chinese market over the last few years. Many of the other batteries released are not Li–ion like the EV battery; rather, they are graphene–enhanced lead–acid batteries. One example is the TNEH Series Deep Cycle Black Gold Battery from Tianneng; another is the 6–DZF-22.8 battery from Xupai Power Co.; and yet another is the Black Gold automotive battery released by Chaowei Power Co. It was also suggested a few years ago that Beijing Carbon Century Technology was developing graphene–enhanced AA batteries, but not much information has been heard since then regarding its commercialization.

It is worth noting, however, that even though there has been a lot of commercial battery developments coming out of China, there have been reports over the years that some of them are potentially using graphite materials instead of graphene (there are strict definitions of what constitutes a graphene material, based on the number of layers in the material).

So it is possible that not all of these are “graphene batteries” per se but are marketed as such, and with information held tight in China, it’s not always the easiest to verify if the claims that a company is using graphene in its batteries is true. Until new information suggests otherwise, we have to accept what is said at face value regarding the use of graphene in different battery technologies.

Smartphones are the biggest commercial product in which Chinese companies have utilized graphene so far, and these smartphones are not only available in the Chinese market but around the world. Given the widespread market of smartphones from Chinese companies, it has been much easier to verify claims regarding the use of graphene in smartphone technologies compared with other areas.

There has been a lot of interest in using graphene in smartphones and other similar devices (tablets, etc). It was initially thought that the optical transparency properties of graphene might be widely utilized in displays, or the electrical conductivity and charge carrier properties could be harnessed for smartphone batteries ― and there has been significant interest in graphene for both when foldable phones first started to be developed.

While there are prototypes of graphene batteries and displays have been created by smartphone companies, graphene has been adopted in Chinese smartphones within their cooling systems. Alongside its other properties, graphene also has a very high thermal conductivity, as well as a high thermal stability. Once you couple this with its thinness, it is a small but effective cooling medium for high–heat electronic devices and can be used alongside existing cooling systems to improve their heat–dissipation effects. As smartphones get smaller and the success of graphene cooling systems gets showcased, it is likely that more will be developed, as many companies are looking to miniaturize their components, and the scope could go beyond portable electronics.

The new Huawei Mate 20X 5G smartphone (Source: Shutterstock)

In terms of where it has been seen commercially already, Huawei was the first to use graphene in the cooling systems of its Mate 20X model and has since gone on to utilize similar cooling systems in other models. The Mate 20X was initially chosen back in 2018 because it was a more niche, smaller–production gaming phone. The cooling system was successful and shown to be effective, so Huawei has since expanded the use of graphene–based cooling systems into its Mate P30 Pro (a wider distributed smartphone aimed more toward the general public), as well as one of its tablets ― the MatePad Pro 5G.

While Huawei is the largest phone company (globally) to use graphene ― and has the widest market share of graphene in smartphones ― the success of Huawei has led other Chinese smartphone companies to use graphene in their smartphone cooling systems. For example, in 2021, ZTE launched its Axon 30 smartphone to the market using a graphene composite cooling system, and realme launched its GT2 series smartphone this year, which includes graphene as part of the cooling system.

So a number of smartphones (and one tablet model) already use graphene in the cooling system, and it’s unlikely to be long before graphene gets used in other areas of a smartphone ― such as batteries and displays ― as well as in larger electronic cooling systems (e.g., laptops). It’s impossible to say where the next commercial advancements will come, but it’s certainly more than likely that some will be released in China in the coming years, given the investment and commercial success of graphene in smartphones (and other technologies) already.

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