Aluminium-ion Batteries, Ultra High Density HHD's and a blood test for Cancer

July 8

This week we look at a new graphene aluminum-ion battery that promises the ability to charge up to 70 times faster than current lithium-ion batteries. We also look at how graphene is helping develop ultra high density Hard Disk Drives that have a density of 10 terabytes per square inch and a new blood test that can test for 50 types of cancer. Finally we look at a new film that can be used on eyeglasses that will allow us to see much better in the dark.

Aluminium-ion Batteries

Battery development is unrelenting. Progress is being made on many fronts. An alliance between Graphene Manufacturing Group and The University of Queensland is developing graphene aluminum-ion batteries with a life, up to 3 times greater than lithium-ion batteries and with the ability to charge 70 times faster.

The real differentiator in the battery is the very high power density of up to 7,000 watts/kg. This endows them with a very high charge rate. Battery life is over 2,000 charge/discharge cycles with no deterioration in performance. They are considered to have very low fire potential. The materials used are more common than the materials in the standard lithium-ion battery and they are more recyclable.

Charging speed is based on the exchange of 3 electrons per ion when recharging and returning to the negative electrode in the battery. Lithium-ion batteries charge one electron per ion at a time. There is also no upper ampere limit which means that they don’t spontaneously overheat. Approximately 20% of Lithium-ion battery packs in EVs are cooling components.

Prototypes of the new battery are currently being trialled in watches, phones, laptops, electric vehicles and grid storage. Coin cell prototypes should be ready for consumer testing in early 2022, followed in the next 18 months by pouch pack batteries (used in mobile phones, laptops etc.).

Ultra High Density Hard Disk Drives

Researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Center have shown that graphene can be used for ultra-high density hard disk drives which have a capacity up to ten times of current technologies. Their study was undertaken with teams in India, Switzerland, Singapore and the US.

Hard Disk Drives (HDD) are mostly found in desk top computers. Solid State Drives (SSD) are preferred for mobile devices. A HDD has two major components, platters and a head. Data is written on the platters using a magnetic head which moves rapidly above the disk whilst it spins. The space between the head and the platter is constantly decreasing which enables higher densities.

Currently layers of carbon overcoats (COC) are used to protect platters from mechanical damage and corrosion. The COC’s occupy a significant part of the spacing between the head and the disk. Since 1990, data density on HDD has quadrupled whereas the COC thickness has reduced from 12.5nm to 3nm. Graphene has allowed researchers to reduce the spacing by a factor of 10. The graphene provides low friction, wear resistant, lubricant compatible, smooth surfaced corrosion protection.

Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR), a new technology that increases density of data storage by heating the recording layer to high temperatures allows graphene coated HDD’s a density of more than 10 terabytes per square inch. HAMR is not able to be used with conventional HDD’s.

In 2020 approximately 1 billion terabytes of new HDDs were produced. Improving their capacity by a factor of 10 will make a significant difference to the economics of data storage.

Blood Test that detects 50 types of Cancer

The most effective way of beating cancer is to find it early. In many cases this is easier said than done. Diagnosis usually involves tissue samples and lab analysis. In most cases it is only after a patient exhibits significant symptoms that the samples are taken.

Blood based cancer detection takes a different approach. It is known that our bodies shed genetic material (i.e. DNA) into the blood on a regular basis. These cell free DNA (cfDNA) are also found in cancerous cells. In fact cancerous cells tend to shed more frequently. cfDNA also carries chemical changes called methylation patterns. These patters can provide information on which organ in the body the cfDNA originated from.

Grail, a Menlo Park (in Silicon Valley south of San Francisco) startup has recently released (March 2021) Galleri, their blood test that will detect cancer, even in its’ earliest stages. The test is designed to be a complimentary screening tool for clinicians to use in patients that have a higher risk of cancer. This is generally all patients over the age of 50.

There is the possibility of false positives and false negatives however they were able to detect over 50 types of cancer from a single blood draw, irrespective of the stage, in 51.5% of cases in their trial. The specificity of test was extremely high with only 0.5% of the site of the cancers wrongly identified. The detection of cancer progresses with stages showing 16.1% for stage 1 up to 90.1% for stage 4. The test is twice as good for solid tumors, such as those that occur in the esophagus, liver and pancreas. These tumors currently do not have any screening methods. The test was less effective for tumors of the breast, bowel and prostate however screening methods for these tumors already exist.

Cancers that shed more cfDNA into the bloodstream are more lethal and more likely to be detected by this method. Grail has planned a pilot study with the NHS in the UK, Results are expected by 2023.

Glasses that allow you to see at night

Various types of infrared glasses have existed for some time. Now a group of scientists from the Australian National University (and other institutions) have developed an ultra thin film of nanometer scale crystals that transform infrared light into images that people can see.

The researchers up-converted the short wave infrared wavelengths using sum-frequency generation. In this process an infrared image is mixed inside the meta-surface with a strong pump beam (a tiny laser), translating the image from the infrared to the visible in a nanoscale imaging device.

The ultra thin film may be able to be used on eyeglasses to allow people to see in the dark. Infrared imaging is also being used in a wide range of processes in food and agriculture quality control, LiDAR and remote sensing devices. This film will reduce the size and increase the functionality of the IR devices. The full paper can be found here.

Beer Bot

Heineken has recently released a beer bot. The bot will follow you wherever you go (for up to 15 miles on a single charge). It can carry and keep cool a dozen beers at a time and according to Heineken it has a “charming AI personality”.

I know that a few of my readers will be trying to order one of these almost immediately upon reading this newsletter. Sorry but they are currently only available in the US and are sold out.

Australian Inventions

Finally a bonus article. For those that are interested here is an article listing 34 Australian inventions changing your life right now. It is an interesting list.

Paying it Forward

If you have a start-up or know of a start-up that has a product ready for market please let me know. I would be happy to have a look and feature the startup in this newsletter. Also if any startups need introductions please get in touch and I will help where I can.

If you have any questions or comments please email me via my website or comment below.

I would also appreciate it if you could forward this newsletter to anyone that you think might be interested.

Till next week.