From left : Geological Survey and Mines Bureau Senior Director Udaya De Silva, SLINTEC Chief Operating Officer Heminda Jayaweera, Ceylon Graphene Technologies CEO Manju Gunawardana and LOLC Group Chief Legal Officer Kithsiri Gunawardena
Pic by Waruna Wanniarachchi
By Nishel Fernando
World’s first ever graphene-applied lead-acid battery is set to come into mass production in Sri Lanka in a few months with the commissioning of Ceylon Graphene Technologies’ (CGT) latest plant to convert locally mined vein graphite into graphene.
CGT, a joint venture between Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) and LOLC Group is expecting to commission the plant in April.
LOLC which has invested US$ 2 million in the venture holds 85 percent stake and SLINTEC holds the remaining 15 percent.
CGT Chief Executive Officer Manju Gunawardana told reporters in Colombo on Thursday that Associated Battery Manufacturers (Ceylon) Ltd (ABM), a subsidiary of leading automotive batteries and industrial batteries manufacturer, Exide Technologies, has agreed to purchase 50 percent of its monthly graphene output when the plant is commissioned.
ABM is currently the country’s market leader in automotive and industrial batteries, and the company also exports to the region.
LOLC holds 38.50 percent stake in ABM through its subsidiary Browns & Company while US-based Exide Technologies holds the majority stake of 61.50 percent.
Gunawardana noted that CGT initially will produce 3.6 tonnes (300kg) of graphene from graphite sourced from Kahatagaha, Bogala and Ragedara mines through LOLC Geo Technologies (Pvt) Ltd, another LOLC unit.
According to Geological Survey & Mines Bureau Senior Director Udaya De Silva, LOLC Group has subscribed to 152 exploratory graphite grids out of 607 grids.
The technology, which was developed by CGT in collaboration with ABM has shown promising results of enhanced charge acceptance of lead acid batteries while reducing sulfation in negative plates by utilising mixed composites of reduced graphene oxide and expanded graphite mixed in an optimized ratio.
According to CGT research, lead acid batteries with added graphene have ended up with 300 percent charge acceptance improvements and 200 percent cycle
Gunawardana expects that the return on investment from the project would be realised within 8-9 months.
Although, Sri Lanka possesses some of the purest vein high crystalline vein graphite in the world with 98 percent carbon purity, Gunawardana pointed out that the country exports a large amount of graphite in raw form at a considerably low value.
According to him, vein graphite is priced between US$ 1.2 - US$ 1.8 per kilogram while graphene can be sold around
US$ 3, 000 per kilogram.
“Sri Lanka currently mines around maximum 400 tonnes of graphite per month. However, we only need 5-6 tonnes to produce graphene and the rest should be utilised for other value additions. Out of the 5 tonnes, we can earn more money than the rest of the 395 tonnes combined,” he added.
Gunawardana said CGT will plan further expansions increasing its capacity based on the market demand.
“It’s just a matter of expanding now. If we get continuous orders, we don’t have any problems in expanding. Since it’s a new material, most of the industries are not aware of the capabilities of the material. Therefore, we are offering sample materials for various industry players to try graphene into their production lines and see what characters of the material they can include,” he elaborated.
SLINTEC Chief Operating Officer Heminda Jayaweera remarked that CGT is conducting various application-based research into graphene with an annual allocation of US$ 500, 000 into research and development.
In particular, CGT has identified the ability to apply graphene into renewable energy and storage systems as graphene exhibits excellent mechanical, electrical, thermal and optical properties.
Gunawardana noted that CGT is exploring possibilities of graphene application for solar storage systems, which could potentially reduce costs while increasing efficiency.
Since Andre Konstantin Geim and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics jointly for groundbreaking experiments on two-dimensional material graphene, it has started to emerge as a key material for the production of flexible electronics, smart textiles, biosensors, drug delivery, water filtration, supercapacitors etc.
The global graphene market value was estimated to be US$ 35 million in 2018 and is expected to reach US$ 406 million by 2026. CGT plans to position itself among the world’s top five graphene manufacturers in few years.