When we first spoke to William Blythe back in 2016, we were trying to get a handle on how a 170-year-old specialty chemical company found itself involved as a major graphene producer. Now nearly two years later we got to visit with the company again to see what’s changed from since we last spoke.
For those of you who would like more regular updates on what William Blythe is doing and thinking about when it comes graphene, you can visit their blog. And while there you can order some material on thesame site.
Q: When we spoke to you 18 months ago, William Blythe expected to boost graphene oxide production to the tonnage scale within the next 6-12 months from a lab production level of around 20Kg. Has that production capacity increase happened?
A: William Blythe has definitely seen an increase in demand for graphene oxide since we last spoke. We have been working on scale up of all three of our graphene oxide products, with significant investments made and planned to ensure we always stay ahead of our customers’ needs. As application development has been slower than originally predicted by our customers, we have been able to scale to an interim production capacity of about 200 kg pa.
Q: At the time we spoke last, William Blythe was investing heavily in R&D, focusing on innovation and product development. How has that program developed over the last 18 months?
A: William Blythe has continued building its R&D program and has added several projects since we last spoke. One significant area of investment is in the energy storage sector, with a commitment to spend £1m over the next 3 years in energy storage research. One of these projects is in collaboration with the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester and aims to develop novel anode materials. As a company, we are very committed to developing the materials needed to enable the exciting technologies needed for the future.
Q: Can you also address along these lines how your supply line has developed, i.e. what are the expectations of your customers in terms of batch-to-batch consistency?
A: William Blythe’s customers, across our whole product range, always require the highest level of batch-to-batch consistency. Our products are generally used in demanding applications, where the performance of the product could be hugely affected by small variations in either the chemical or physical properties of the materials we supply. We pride ourselves on offering consistently high-quality products. Both the quality and batch-to-batch consistency of our graphene oxide has been commended by several customers.
Q: Are you still supplying strictly graphene oxide or have you branched out to other graphene products, such as single-crystal monolayer graphene? Why have you chosen one product approach, or the other?
A: As we discussed previously, William Blythe is an inorganic specialty chemicals manufacturer. The chemical exfoliation route we use to synthesize our graphene oxide is very well aligned with our core capabilities, which means we are very well positioned to scale the process effectively and successfully.
Q: We discussed ad hoc industry standards for graphene last time we spoke. Have those become more formalized? And what is the state of graphene standardization across producers?
A: A lot of work is taking place on standardization of graphene materials, however the early standards are more focused on graphene as opposed to graphene oxide. While standards are now being written and the first standards are now published, there is still a need to get the wider market on board as terminology is not always being fully understood and adopted by those in the graphene community.
Q: A year-and-half ago, William Blythe expressed confidence that graphene "will be well established in the supply chain of several industries within the next 5 – 10 years”. Has anything occurred since that then enforces that belief, or perhaps you have become more cautious?
A: Based on the work we know of in this market, the forecast of graphene oxide being well established in some industries by 2026 is very realistic. William Blythe is, as you know, working on increasing production capacity of their graphene oxide to meet customer demands over the coming years. While some applications are commercializing right now, William Blythe is also working on several longer-term projects, we expect these applications to take several years to commercialize, but would still anticipate commercial volume demand in these areas before 2026.
Of the thousands of research papers that have been published on graphene, and the similarly high number of graphene-related patents that have been filed, a small percentage will ever see the light of day from a commercialization or application perspective.
To address this “Valley of Death”—as some have termed the gap between the lab and the fab—there exists one of the few mechanisms established to help move research from the laboratory to commercial production: the University Technology Transfer Office (TTO). These institutions are charged with identifying commercially viable intellectual property (IP) held by their university and then connecting with qualified and interested commercial and financial partners.
While on the best of days developing lab projects into commercially viable IP is a challenge, for an emerging technology like graphene there is another layer of difficulty that needs to be addressed.
“Early on the mention of the material’s performance, attributes and excitement around it led to unrealistic expectations as to its state of development. Many expected to be able to invest in or adopt a technology which was close to market use, when in fact there is more science development and engineering required to address most opportunities, certainly the more sophisticated markets.Remember that it took aluminium and carbon fibre some 30 years to go from discovery to serious use.”explainedClive Rowland, CEO of the University of Manchester’s innovation company, UMI3.
One of the biggest challenges faced by university TTOs is to accurately forecast or identify commercially viable opportunities. When a material is completely new, as with graphene, it becomes exponentially harder to get that prediction model to be accurate.
“Initially, many thought that graphene would be used in electronic applications (the new silicon) but there was – at that time - little appreciation that there is no band gap in graphene, meaning that there are few breakthrough uses until that issue has been solved,” explained Rowland. “The hype around the electronic applications and hundreds if not thousands of patents filed for this area distorted the picture.Most likely it will be other 2D materials, or a combination of graphene with them, that will be better suited to electronic (and many other) applications.”
The issues faced by university TTOs are not just about getting a handle on predicting the real application potential for a technology, but also working with outside commercial and financial partners. When it comes to graphene, this problem is magnified due to a general lack of understanding about the quality issues surrounding graphene.
Rowland explains that this lack of understanding has led to some unrealistic expectations about graphene from those outside the research community. “It has been difficult to manage these expectations at the University TTO level since the external community (investors and industry) are really looking for and expecting us to have a set of products to license, or around which we can establish start-ups.”
Far from licensing or the establishment of start-ups, the reality is that the invention disclosures are very early-stage where risk capital and/or industrial collaborations are needed to develop these technologies to some stage higher up the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale, according to Rowland.
Rowland believes that it is still too early to measure the tangible outcomes that the University of Manchester has achieved in the commercialization of graphene. However, he notes that Manchester had set up a graphene characterization and consulting company early in the process called 2D Tech, which was acquired by a British engineering company Versarien that has since developed it further into a product development company.
In addition, UMI3 has established a joint IP development program with a British engineering firm (Morgan Advanced Materials) to scale up its graphene production method, which involves the exfoliation of graphite. They have also set up a company (Atomic Mechanics) to make and sell graphene pressure sensor products. After having brought this work to the stage of one or two demonstrators, Atomic Mechanics is now attracting the interest of seed investors, according to Rowland.
A potential mistake that other university TTOs might be making is to apply the usual tech transfer techniques to it and expect it to work.
“Graphene cannot really go the normal route from lab to market without special attention given to it,” said Rowland. “We treat it more like a portfolio approach and aim to use our Background IP as a basis to attract industrial collaborators to work with us in developing applications in our specialist centers.” These centers are the National Graphene Institute and the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre.
Even with the huge strides Manchester has made in establishing an infrastructure to support the commercialization of graphene, Rowland concedes that they cannot nor should do it alone. It’s part of a bigger picture to create a Manchester cluster of graphene active companies located close to the campus. Also they need to engage entrepreneurs who have been successful in marketing engineered products and building companies to collaborate in developing those inventions that have breakthrough potential—so-called platform technologies that sustain a successful independent business.
“To achieve this we have set up a dedicated team of people who work alongside the TTO (essentially part of the TTO) to accelerate these more challenging areas of science and engineering,” said Rowland. “This accelerator is called Graphene Enabled. It’s another important aspect of a grander strategic approach. The Graphene Enabled approach needs to sit alongside our industrial collaboration activity, so that we bring the whole community that we need to commercialize graphene onto our campus (investors, entrepreneurs, business people, industrialists) and in an appropriate environment, so that it does not conflict with or divert from the first-class basic science research going on in our academic schools.”
Another organization that plays an important role in the commercialization ecosystem is The Graphene Council, a neutral platform that welcomes all dedicated stakeholders from academia and the commercial sector according to Terrance Barkan CAE, Executive Director of The Graphene Council.
“The mission of The Graphene Council is to act as a catalyst for the sustainable commercialization of graphene. We achieve this in part by augmenting and supporting the efforts of University Technology Transfer Offices, connecting them with potential partners while also providing market intelligence to help better understand where commercial opportunities exist,” said Barkan.
“We spend a good part of our time helping to educate the end-user markets that will be the future customers for graphene enabled products and solutions. Because we have the largest community in the world of professionals, researchers, application developers and end users that have an interest in graphene, we are an ideal partner and connector.”
Advanced materials company, First Graphene Limited (“FGR” or “the Company”) (ASX: FGR) is pleased to announce the launch of its 50%-owned associate company, 2D Fluidics Pty Ltd, in collaboration with Flinders University’s newly named Flinders Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology.
The initial objective of 2D Fluidics will be the commercialisation of the Vortex Fluidic Device (VFD), invented by the Flinders Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology’s Professor Colin Raston. The VFD enables new approaches to producing a wide range of materials such as graphene and sliced carbon nanotubes, with the bonus of not needing to use harsh or toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process (which is required for conventional graphene and shortened carbon nanotube production).
This clean processing breakthrough will also greatly reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of manufacturing these new high quality super-strength carbon materials. The key intellectual property used by 2D Fluidics comprises two patents around the production of carbon nanomaterials, assigned by Flinders University.
2D Fluidics will use the VFD to prepare these materials for commercial sales, which will be used in the plastics industry for applications requiring new composite materials, and by the electronics industry for circuits, supercapacitors and batteries, and for research laboratories around the world.
2D Fluidics will also manufacture the VFD, which is expected to become an in-demand state-of-the-art research and teaching tool for thousands of universities worldwide, and should be a strong revenue source for the new company.
Managing Director, Craig McGuckin said “First Graphene is very pleased to be partnering Professor Raston and his team in 2D Fluidics, which promises to open an exciting growth path in the world of advanced materials production. Access to this remarkably versatile invention will complement FGRs position as the leading graphene company at the forefront of the graphene revolution.”
Professor Colin Raston AO FAA, Professor of Clean Technology, Flinders Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology, Flinders University said “The VFD is a game changer for many applications across the sciences, engineering and medicine, and the commercialisation of the device will have a big impact in the research and teaching arena,” Nano-carbon materials can replace metals in many products, as a new paradigm in manufacturing, and the commercial availability of such materials by 2D Fluidics will make a big impact. It also has exciting possibilities in industry for low cost production where the processing is under continuous flow, which addresses scaling up - often a bottleneck issue in translating processes into industry.”
Just as in other uses of graphene for sensors, in this application graphene’s property of being only one-thick and highly conductive makes it extremely sensitive to detecting biological signals. The way the actual device exploits that property is that when DNA or RNA molecules bind to the graphene surface, they dramatically change the materials conductivity.
This is not the first time that this basic design has been used as a biological sensor. However, in this case instead of using a single-stranded DNA that can only bind to the target DNA molecule, they developed what they have dubbed a “DNA hairpin” in which its curled structure opens up when the target molecule binds to it.
When it opens, another DNA molecule that has been added to the system kicks the target molecule out, making it possible to bind with many different sites on the graphene.
CleanTech Open Award winner (and Graphene Council Corporate member) Urbix Resources has announced plans to build a graphite purification plant. Ground will be broken in 2018 for plant completion in the second half of 2019.
Urbix executives are currently searching for the perfect site to build the proprietary facility the company is planning. They are looking at locations in Maricopa County in Arizona as well as possible sites in Nevada, California, and Hermosillo, Mexico.
Plans to move forward with the purification plant follows on the company’s Series A funding oversubscription which closed at $3.5 million dollars. “The investment community’s response to our plans has been enthusiastic,” says Vice-Chairman, Anthony J. Parkinson. “We have every reason to believe that enthusiasm will support the creation of the facility we’ve been envisioning.”
Urbix’s state-of-the-art facility will be purifying graphite through a proprietary process that does not use high temperature furnaces or hydrofluoric acid. Urbix will be supplying their plant with graphite from Mozambique with technology partner Battery Minerals (ASX-BAT) and from diverse global supply partners. The purification facility will process up to 2500 metric tonnes of 99.95%+ Cg graphite per month. Urbix’s phase two expansion will include the ability to make coated spherical graphite and advanced graphite derivatives including functionalized graphene nano platelets.
“What we are planning will be, upon completion, the top graphite purification plant in the United States,” says Urbix Executive Chairman, Nico Cuevas. “Eliminating industry standard processes makes it arguably the greenest graphite purification technique in the world.”
Urbix was recently tapped as one of five companies selected by the US Department of Energy to receive a technology development voucher for preliminary work oriented towards the advancements of ultra-high purity isotropic graphite for nuclear applications.
Prof. Dina Fattakhova-Rohlfing. (Image: FZ Juelich)
Graphene has been earmarked for energy storage applications for years. The fact that graphene is just surface area is very appealing to battery applications in which anodes and electrodes store energy in the material that covers them.
With lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries representing the most ubiquitous battery technology, with uses ranging from our smart phones to electric cars, increasing their storage capacity and shortening their charging times with graphene has been a big research push.
Unfortunately, the prospects for graphene in energy storage have been stalled for years. This is in part due to the fact that while graphene is all surface area, in order to get anywhere near the kind of storage capacity of today’s activated carbon you need to layer graphene. The result after enough layering is you end up back with graphite, defeating the purpose of using graphene in the first place.
Now a team of German researchers has developed an approach for improving the anodes of Li-ion batteries that uses graphene in support of tin oxide nanoparticles.
"In principle, anodes based on tin dioxide can achieve much higher specific capacities, and therefore store more energy, than the carbon anodes currently being used. They have the ability to absorb more lithium ions," said Dian Fattakhova-Rohlfing, a researcher at Forschungszentrum Jülich research institute in Germain, in a press release. "Pure tin oxide, however, exhibits very weak cycle stability – the storage capability of the batteries steadily decreases and they can only be recharged a few times. The volume of the anode changes with each charging and discharging cycle, which leads to it crumbling."
The research described in the Wiley journal Advanced Functional Materials, uses graphene as a base layer in a hybrid nanocomposite in which the tin oxide nanoparticles enriched with antimony are layered on top of the graphene. The graphene provides structural stability to the nanocomposite material.
The combination of the tin oxide nanoparticle being enriched with antimony makes them extremely conductive, according to Fattakhova-Rohlfing. "This makes the anode much quicker, meaning that it can store one-and-a-half times more energy in just one minute than would be possible with conventional graphite anodes. It can even store three times more energy for the usual charging time of one hour."
The scientists found that in contrast to most batteries the high energy density did not have to come with very slow charging rates. Anybody who has a smartphone knows how long it takes to charge it to 100 percent.
"Such high energy densities were only previously achieved with low charging rates," says Fattakhova-Rohlfing. "Faster charging cycles always led to a quick reduction in capacity."
In contrast, the research found that their antimony-doped anodes retain 77 percent of their original capacity even after 1,000 cycles.
Because tin oxide is abundant and cheap, the scientists claim that the nanocomposite anodes can be produced in an easy and cost-effective way.
Fattakhova-Rohlfing added: "We hope that our development will pave the way for lithium-ion batteries with a significantly increased energy density and very short charging time."
Ask just about any company involved in bringing graphene and graphene-enabled products to market—as we have—and you will quickly realize that all these organizations consider standardization of the material as a critical need for the wider adoption of graphene.
To further heighten awareness of this issue, The Graphene Council recently contributed an article to The Graphene Technology Journal published by Springer and Nature in which we conducted an interview with Norbert Fabricius, who is one of the leading authorities on the development of standards around graphene.
After all this effort, others are beginning to seek us out to learn more about the development of standards related to graphene. In an interview with SciTech Europa, Barkan provides an in-depth look at where standards for graphene are now and their importance going forward.
In this interview, Barkan references the Global Graphene Industry Survey and Report produced by The Graphene Council that even two years after its publication remains the most extensive survey of producers and users of graphene. Barkan also references some of the recent groundbreaking work that the Council is doing in educating the industry into how graphene can best be used in composites and plastics.
It appears the word is getting out about the quality of the studies and projects the Council has undertaken over the years in leading industry efforts from standards to health and safety issues and promoting greater understanding of how graphene fits into the value chain of a range of industries.
Now researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK have developed a technique for adding graphene to concrete that provides such a wide gamut of new and improved properties that some are predicting that it could revolutionize the construction industry.
In research described in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the University of Exeter researchers demonstrated that the addition of graphene to concrete could improve the material’s compressive strength by 149 percent. This compressive strength increase was accompanied with a 79 per cent increase in flexural strength, a 400 per cent decrease in water permeability, and improved electrical and thermal performance.
The key to this development is that it is completely compatible with today’s large-scale production of concrete. It simply involves suspending atomically thin graphene in water. The resulting process keeps costs low and results in very few defects in the end product
“This ground-breaking research is important as it can be applied to large-scale manufacturing and construction,” said Dimitar Dimov, a PhD student at the University of Exeter and the lead author of the research. “The industry has to be modernized by incorporating not only off-site manufacturing, but innovative new materials as well.”
What may grab the headlines beyond its improved properties is that the graphene-enabled concreted appeals to so-called green manufacturing.
“By including graphene we can reduce the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50 per cent — leading to a significant reduction of 446 kilograms per ton of the carbon emissions,” said Monica Craciun, professor at Exeter and co-author of the research. “This unprecedented range of functionalities and properties uncovered are an important step in encouraging a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly construction industry worldwide.”
Photons are faster than electrons. This has lead scientists to see if they can harness light (photons) to operate an integrated circuit. While this should result in faster circuits, there’s a hitch: wavelengths of light are much larger than the dimensions of today’s computer chips. The problem is that you simply can’t compress the wavelengths to the point where they work in these smaller chip-scale dimensions.
Scientists have been leveraging a new tool lately to shrink the wavelengths of light to fit into smaller dimensions: plasmonics. Plasmonics exploits the waves of electrons—known as plasmons—that are formed when photons strike a metallic structure. Graphene has played a large role in this emerging field because it has the properties of a metal—it’s a pure conductor of electrons.
The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, which has been a leader in this field for years, is now reporting they have taken the use of graphene for shrinking the wavelengths of light to a new level. In research described in the journal Science, ICFO researchers have managed to confine light down to a space one atom thick in dimension. This is certainly the smallest confinement ever achieved and may represent the ultimate level for confining light.
The way the researchers achieved this ultimate confinement was to use graphene along with one of its two-dimensional (2D) cousins: hexagonal boron nitride, which is aninsulator.
By using these 2D cousins together, the researchers created what’s known as van der Waals heterostructures in which monolayers of different 2D materials are by stacked on top of each other and held together by van der Waal forces to create materials with tailored electronic properties—like different band gaps for stopping and starting the flow of electrons. In this case, the layers included hexagonal boron nitride layered on top of the graphene and then involved adding an array of metallic rods on top of that. This structure had the graphene sandwiched between an insulator and a conductor. The graphene in this role served to guide the plasmons that formed when light struck the outer metallic rods.
In the experiment, the ICFO researchers sent infrared light through devices made from the van der Waal heterostructures to see how the plasmons propagated in between the outer metallic rods and the graphene.
To get down to the dimensions of one atom for confining the light, the researchers knew that they had to reduce the gap between the metal and the graphene. But the trick was to see if it was possible to reduce that gap without it leading to additional energy losses.
To their surprise, the ICFO researchers observed that even when a monolayer of hexagonal boron nitride was used as a spacer, the plasmons were still excited by the light, and could propagate freely while being confined to a channel of just on atom thick. They managed to switch this plasmon propagation on and off, simply by applying an electrical voltage, demonstrating the control of light guided in channels smaller than one nanometer of height.
The researchers believe that these results could to lead a new generation of optoelectronic devices that are just one nanometer thick. Down the road, this could lead to new devices such as ultra-small optical switches, detectors and sensors.
The Mobile World Congress (MWC) held annually in Barcelona, Spain is one of the largest technology conferences in the world. For the last three years, the MWC has been hosting the Graphene Pavilion that showcases the research institutes and technologies that they have developed under the EU’s Graphene Flagship.
The Graphene Council visited the Graphene Pavilion last month in Barcelona and we came back with some videos. One of the anchor institutions at the Pavilion is The Institute of Photonics (ICFO) located just outside of Barcelona. The Graphene Council has been speaking to Frank Koppens at ICFO since 2015 about how graphene was impacting photonics and optoelectronics.
In our latest visit with them at MWC this year, we got an update on some of the ways they are applying their technologies to various technologies.
In the one shown in the video below, the researchers have developed ultraviolet (UV) sensors for protecting the wearers from overexposure to the sun.
What the ICFO discovered six years ago was that while graphene generates an electron-hole pair for every single photon the material absorbs generates, it doesn’t really absorb that much light. To overcome this limitation of graphene, they combined it with quantum dots with the hybrid material being capable of absorbing 25 percent of the light falling on it. When you combine this new absorption capability with graphene’s ability to make every photon into an electron-hole pair, the potential for generating current became significant.
The ICFO has been proposing applications like this for this underlying technology for years, and producing working prototypes. At the MWC in 2016, the ICFO was exhibiting a heart rate monitor. In that device, when a finger is placed on the photodetector, the digit acts as an optical modulator, changing the amount of light hitting the photodetector as your heart beats and sends blood through your fingertip. This change in signal is what generates a pulse rate on the screen of the mobile device.
This same basic technology is at the heart of another technology ICFO was exhibiting this year (see video below) in which the graphene-based photodector can determine what kind of milk you are about to drink. This could conceivably be used by someone who has a lactose intolerance that could threaten their lives and by using the detector could determine if it was cow’s milk or soy milk, for instance.
While ICFO goes so far as to discuss prices for the devices, it’s not clear that ICFO is really committed to any of these technologies for its wide-spectrum CMOS graphene image sensor, or not. In the case of the heart monitor, the researchers claimed at the time it was really just intended to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology.
The long-range aim of the technology is to improve the design of these graphene-based image sensors to operate at a higher resolution and in a broader wavelength range. Once the camera is improved, the ICFO expects that will be used inside a smartphone or smart watch. In the meantime, these wearable technologies offer intriguing possibilities and maybe even a real commercial avenue for the technology.
Needless to say, an entirely new class of photodetectors—based on proton transport as opposed to all current photodetectors today that are based on electron transport—is a pretty significant development. You add on to this the fact that the photodetectors made from graphene are 100,000 times more responsive than silicon and you have the basis of a transformative technology.
What regular readers of The Graphene Council may have missed earlier this month in an Executive Q&A with Jeffrey Draa, CEO of Grolltex, was that we got some indications in that interview that the technology being developed in Geim’s lab is ramping up for commercial applications.
Draa said in the interview: “…we’re also starting to get some inquiries for an application that actually Dr. Andre Geim at the University of Manchester, who, of course, was the discoverer of graphene was very passionate about. This is one of the very first applications that he thought futuristically would really make the world a better place, and that third application that we're starting to see on the horizon is graphene as a proton exchange membrane in a hydrogen fuel cell.”
Draa in this interview points to the initial applications that were discussed almost four years ago for this graphene-based proton exchange membrane. At the time, Geim had discovered that contrary to the prevailing wisdom that graphene was impermeable to all gas and liquids it could, in fact, allow protons to pass through. This made scientists immediately conjure up the proton exchange membranes that are central to the functioning of fuel cells.
While there’s no reason to think that these graphene membranes won’t someday make for excellent proton exchange membranes for fuel cells, the problem is that fuel cells are not exactly ubiquitous. However, photodetectors certainly are ubiquitous, making for a much larger potential market for these graphene membranes.
Of course, it’s a pretty big step to make these graphene membranes go from being used for fuel cells to being used in photodetectors. So how did this application switch occur?
The University of Manchester scientists started with monolayer graphene decorated with platinum (Pt) nanoparticles. In operation, photons (light) strike the membrane and excite the electrons in the graphene around the Pt nanoparticles. This makes the electrons in the graphene become highly reactive to protons. This, in turn, induces the electrons to recombine with protons to form hydrogen molecules at the Pt nanoparticles. This process mimics the way in silicon-based photodetectors operate based on electron-hole recombination.
While there are similarities between the semiconductor approach to electron-hole recombination, the photon-proton effect used in this graphene membrane would represent a big departure from the previous approach and nobody is quite sure what the implications might be.
However, it is clear that this graphene membrane that Grolltex is working on with the scientists at Manchester may have a new set of applications that extends far beyond just typical membrane-based technologies.
Last month, The Graphene Council's Executive Director, Terrance Barkan, and its Editor-in-Chief, Dexter Johnson, had the opportunity to have a talk with the CEO of California-based Grolltex Inc., Jeffrey Draa, about the company's business strategies in bringing graphene products to market and his views on graphene's future. Here is that conversation.
Could you tell us a little bit about the background of GrollTex. How did the company get started and how did you get involved with graphene? In particular, could you provide the history of Grolltex as a company?
Sure, so the name Grolltex is short for graphene rolling technologies and the brief history of the company is that my partner and co-founder and really the inventor, Dr. Alexander Zaretski, was a researcher at University of California San Diego.
He was involved with graphene growth andreally got deep into graphene manufacturing techniques while he was at the University of California San Diego. One of the issues with this specific kind of graphene, as generated by chemical vapor deposition (CVD), of course, is the ‘transfer’ issue: How does one get single-layer graphene synthesized from copper off of the copper growth substrate and onto a substrate of interest without destroying the copper growth substrate? Of course, the current state-of-the art is to either acid etch the copper off of CVD graphene, or to use an electrolytic solution to sort of bubble the graphene off of the copper and have it rise to the top after a long period of time.
So both of these two processes, which had been state-of-the art, impact the copper in a very negative way so it's very expensive and not manufacturable. And my partner, Alexander, decided if graphene is going to go forward, there has to be a way to manufacture graphene and not destroy or impact that copper.So he came up with a process to do that, a process that has a rolling schema where we reuse that growth copper over and over again. So that's kind of the background of the company. Alex had decided that he wanted, and felt so passionately about, this transfer technology and bringing it to graphene manufacturing that after completing his work as a researcher at UCSD, he broke out on his own and he asked me if I would be the business side of the company and he had the technical side. So that's kind of a brief background of Grolltex and how we came to be.
I understand you’re privately held company, correct?
We are, yes. We were funded roughly a year and a half ago with our seed funding and we've since about six months ago taken another round.
In terms of your graphene manufacturing that you just laid out, as you said you focused on producing single-layer graphene of the highest quality, so what are the markets that this product offering opens up to you? And what do you see as your strongest market now and do you see that market changing five years from now?
Well, as anybody that has knowledge of the graphene markets knows, single-layer high purity graphene like that synthesized via CVD has many theoretical use cases. We see on the short-term horizon three particular applications that are really kind of starting to command our attention. Those three are number one: sensing. So graphene given its electrical and mass properties makes an excellent sensor at a very, very small level. So sensing is number one.
We also are doing some work in the advanced solar cell arena and we have a grant from the California Energy Commission where we're working on a two-sided solar cell where graphene not only plays the part of barrier material but it's also the electrode material. So that's really exciting.
And for number three we’re also starting to get some inquiries for an application that actually Dr. Andre Geim at the University of Manchester, who, of course, was the discoverer of graphene was very passionate about. This is one of the very first applications that he thought futuristically would really make the world a better place, and that third application that we're starting to see on the horizon is graphene as a proton exchange membrane in a hydrogen fuel cell.
So those are kind of the three leading candidates we see right now. We’re judging that by some initial business that we’re getting in those areas.
You were discussing a number of applications you are pursing, including sensors. On your website you talk about enabling sensors that could be used for the Internet of Things. Can you explain why you see graphene playing such an important role in the development Internet of Things?
I’ll speak a little about graphene as a sensor material. When you combine the electrical conductivity properties along with the fact that graphene is one atom thick, you've got the potential for a sensor that could take us into the future for the next hundred years. We have patents around some designs of graphene-based sensing materials that are so sensitive that, for example, in the biotech world we had some bioengineering folks at Stanford use our sensor to sense the ability of individual heart cells to contract. Currently there only exists a different kind of test that can only count the number of contractions, but our sensor is so sensitive that it picks up the strength of contraction of the individual heart cell when it beats and it's a very robust signal; there's no mistaking it. So that's just one example of the potential of graphene as a sensor and we're seeing good activity there.
What is consistently your biggest challenge when you're talking to potential customers and convincing them how to use your product? Are they worried about pricing of graphene, the quality of product, a consistent supply chain? What stands out as one of the key issues that keeps coming up when you're speaking to these people?
So, I think the first consistent theme would surprise no one,and it's price. Almost any inquiry goes down along the lines of price, especially for a field like solar. If solar is implemented it’s going to need miles and miles of cheap graphene. Now the case of a sensor is not quite as price sensitive, but with regards to the big kind of large applications people think about like flexible displays and some of the other big idea changes for graphene those are really price sensitive. So price is the first one.
We don't get too many concerns with regards to the supply chain. Quality of product is sometimes discussed and that's partly because graphene is such a new field. But a lot of folks have what they are calling graphene and maybe debatably it is not. We don't necessarily have that problem because no one argues that single-layer graphene made by CVD is not graphene, so we don't have any discussion of the quality, but that sometimes can be an issue. So to kind of summarize, and get back to your main question, really price is the first thing that people want and that's the first hurdle you have to get over with almost everyone.
In addition to your graphene product, you're also producing hexagonal boron nitride (sometimes called white graphene). How do you see this material filling out your portfolio and what are the applications for this material that you're currently targeting and do you expect to develop other two-dimensional materials?
Hexagonal boron nitride is something we’re very excited about for several reasons. For the folks that aren't familiar with hexagonal boron nitride, you need to understand how it works with graphene. Graphene is, of course, the most conductive substance known at room temperature; it's on the order of seven times more conductive than copper depending on who you talk to. So as a conductor, graphene is really unparalleled. Now if you're going to design an electronic device of any type, of course, you worry about a conducting material because you can make the wire, the battery, and the switch with the conductive material. But the other thing you have to worry about is the insulating material. What are you going to use for the insulation for graphene? You have to separate the layers of the devices and hexagonal boron nitride is as good an electrical insulator as graphene is a conductor. And hexagonal boron nitride has a hexagonal pattern when it is synthesized in the proper way and that pattern lines up perfectly with the hexagonal lattice pattern of graphene so it also provides the strength benefit too. So it is really the ideal cousin of graphene. If you're an electronic designer, you're going to want both a conductor and an insulator and now we're going to be delivering both.
So that answers your first question and your second question, which was “are we going to develop other two dimensional materials?” As far as basic building blocks, we are going to rest on graphene and hexagonal boron nitride for a time because again those are your two basic building blocks: you need the insulation and the conducting but we also are developing other materials that go into specific devices. So, an example of this is the sensors I talked about that require some precious metal in small quantity—atomic quantity.There are other materials involved when you go to make a specific device, but as far as the basic building blocks we're going to stand pat on graphene and hBN probably for a while.
What is your perspective on hybrid graphene materials? I am referring to this combination of a conductor and an insulator, or even a conductor with a semiconductor, and based on that will you look to develop those hybrids yourself or have your client make the next step in the value chain?
At the moment our clients are doing that work. Now I'm not going to say that we won't get into it, but we're going to be opportunistic with regard to that. With regard to opportunistic roads that we can go down today, our plate is pretty full, but there are several routes we can take. We are seeing folks in the semiconductor world, which is my background, starting to use other materials and creating devices out of some of those second and third level hybrids as you described and that's really exciting work. So we may get into some of that, but again we have a lot on our plate right now just based on what I described already.
I’d like to get your view of the overall industry over the short, middle and long term—five, ten, fifteen years expectations of graphene and the industry. And what is your strategy for best placing your company in the environment that you see developing?
With regard to our company, just saying the word “graphene” to a lot of people opens up so many thought patterns, channels and ideas that one of the things that's going to have to happen is the standards are going to need to be put in place fairly soon so that people can know what they're saying when they say “graphene”.
There's a lot of graphitic solutions out there and hybrids and powders and all kinds of things that debatably aren't graphene (of course, I would say that because of my company is involved in the area that there is no argument that it is pure graphene). But the point of that is we will need some standards and some nomenclature put in place to help take this whole field to the next level.
There's all kinds of great use cases for graphitic solutions that aren't graphene—great use cases, don't get me wrong—but let's make sure that we can assign proper nomenclature so people know what they are talking about and looking at. With regard to my company specifically, one of our challenges is picking our targets because again there are so many kinds of different opportunities. And when we first started out we decided we were going to have a two-phased approach to our business and we're doing the phase one part of that now.
Phase one for us is to make and sell graphene material as research material. So our core customer for our phase one is the university lab and commercial lab. So we sell graphene on copper substrates, on wafers, we sell graphene on customer specific substrates. You send us your substrate of interest and we’ll put our graphene on it and send it back to you. That phase one of our business that I just described to you is allowing us to pursue all kinds of exciting applications and some of them are helping us go in new directions. So, our challenge in the first five years I think is; number one stay on that phase-one path, get to profitability just as a business and number two really pick our paths carefully with regard to what are going to be the first real big market businesses out there in graphene—the ones that have paying customers.
So from a commercialization perspective, I think what you mention is that the majority, or is it basically all, of your customers are they in the testing or R&D category right now?
Yes, that’s fair to say. There's a population of big players in the industry that have their own graphene “skunkworks” that they're just not talking about. For example, I'm just going to throw some names around freely about big companies that we happen to know that do have graphene labs internally that it's just really very hush-hush. The reason we know this is because we know some of the people that have been hired out of other graphene places into these big companies. For example, Apple is one of them. They don't talk about it but they have a big graphene effort. Hewlett Packard is of one of those. Samsung is not bashful about their graphene efforts. So there are a lot of big companies where there is a lot of activity going on but nobody is talking about it so I think there's a lot more happening in graphene than people are even aware of because it’s not being leaked.
One of the things we’re very interested in doing as the Graphene Council is helping to act as a catalyst and accelerate commercialization.
One of the biggest obstacles to commercialization we’ve seen is simply the education of potential end users and consumers.Can you talk a little bit about that? I mean as a company trying to educate potential clients one by one is a time consuming and expensive proposition.
What are the some of the other vertical markets or specific application areas—you mentioned sensors, of course? Are there some other specific areas where you think there's good commercial opportunity where we can help educate those populations?
The first one that comes to mind is the display market. So the display folks, of course, have been using indium tin oxide (ITO) as their core material for decades. ITO is really not a great material for them; it's expensive, it involves dirty mining and it is very prone to pollution when getting it out of the earth. It's also brittle which is why everyone’s display on their phone, their laptop, their television, all displays are brittle; they're like glass.
Graphene is actually a plug and play replacement for ITO and graphene enables flexible displays. So, the first big use case I can think of and that would be the most exciting and the most impactful for the most people is ITO replacement for making flexible displays.
But also I think it’s a use case that's pretty far down the road. It’s very price sensitive for one reason and number two there is a huge infrastructure with multiple large multinational corporations already in place and has been in place for decades with a big manufacturing schema, billions of dollars all lined up to process ITO, etc.. That's not going to shut off overnight and just accept a graphene replacement, right? So, from a price perspective and from an implementation perspective there are some challenges with ITO replacement, but I think that it strikes me as the kind of area where we can start hammering away at some of the existing thinking.
The Graphene Council thanks Jeffrey Draa, CEO of GROLLTEX for his time and unique insights into the developing market for graphene.
Advanced materials company, First Graphene Limited (“FGR” ) has announced an update on its work with the Swinburne University of Technology (SUT) on the development of a new energy storage technology using graphene, referring to their new product as the "BEST™ Battery".
While it is generally accepted that lithium-ion batteries are the state-of-the-art energy storage device available for consumer products today, they are not without their issues. In particular, there are examples where they have been the cause of fires in some instances. There is a vast number of companies and research institutions working to provide safer, more reliable and longer life batteries which utilise materials other than lithium-ion. Some of these involve the use of graphene.
First Graphene, through its research and licencing agreements with Swinburne University of Technology, is pursuing a significantly different path to the development of the next generation of energy storage devices. Rather than trying to improve existing chemical battery technology, it is pioneering the field of advanced supercapacitors which have the potential to change the future for energy storage forever, particularly in handheld and consumer products.
Using the advanced qualities of graphene, First Graphene is developing the BEST™ Battery. This energy storage device promises to be chargeable in a fraction of the time and it will be fit for purpose for at least 10 times the life of existing batteries. It will be significantly safer and more environmentally friendly. All these improvements are made possible because the science relies on physics rather than chemical reactions, and on the remarkable properties of graphene materials.
The table below provides an interesting comparison of key operating parameters of the BEST™ Battery alongside existing lithium-ion batteries and existing supercapacitors available in the market. What is particularly noteworthy is the 10x increase in the energy density expected for the BEST™ Battery, when compared with supercapacitors currently on sale in the market place, and the much lower cost per Wh. These features will provide great commercial advantages.
Table 1: Comparison between BEST™ Target development and existing Li Ion AA Batteries and an existing commercial Supercapacitor.
While the exact details of the design and construction of the BEST™ Battery must remain confidential for reasons of commercial security, First Graphene have disclosed the process of manufacturing the battery involves the use of lasers to create nanopores in graphene-based materials which achieve energy densities more than 10x as great as the pre-existing technology. Practical matters being addressed include the scaling up to the size of the battery from simple laboratory demonstrations of the effectiveness of the science, to devices which will be effective substitutes for batteries used in a wide range of hand held consumer products.
The first few months of the BEST™ Battery development project entailed the recruitment of additional, highly qualified research scientists and the acquisition of specialised equipment needed to prepare and manufacture the components of the BEST™ Battery.
Work has commenced on the improvement of many design aspects in order to optimise the configuration of the battery, with the ultimate objective being to develop a product suitable for mass scale production. At the same time, the methodology of making the battery is being subjected to continuous experimentation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the materials and processes used in the device. In addition, the pilot production line for building the BEST™ Battery prototype has been set up, which enables the manufacturing of the BEST™ Battery to meet industrial standards.
Swinburne recently reported that a single layer of the BEST™ Battery prototype that made by the pilot production line was able to sustain an LED globe for a period of 15-20 minutes with only a few seconds of initial charge. This is a very significant outcome, auguring well for the ultimate product which is intended to comprise much more than 100 stacked layers of graphene sheets.
The Ragone plot below tracks the continuing improvements in the performance of the BEST™ Battery.
Figure 1: Ragone Plot demonstrating the progress of the BEST™ Battery development toward its goal
Graphene-Based Flexible Smart Watch
The research being undertaken also involves the development of flexible batteries for smart watches which can be incorporated into the watchband itself. These will be light-weight and flexible, they will be able to be recharged in 1-2 minutes, and they will be fit for purpose for many tens of thousands of cycles. Information will be displayed not only on the watch face, but also on the band itself.
While it is intended that the BEST™ Battery development program will eventually provide suitable substitutes for many devices which currently used flat pack and cylindrical batteries, it will also provide batteries for new, innovative purposes. The thin profile of the Battery, and its flexibility, will make it suitable for use in clothing. It could also be integrated into smart watch bands, as an example, rather than having a solid block configuration. It is already showing excellent ability to convert kinetic energy into stored energy due to the speed at which it can charge i.e. simple movement of shaking can recharge the Battery.
Commenting on these progress, FGR’s Managing Director Craig McGuckin said:
“The demonstration of full scale commerciality of the BEST™ Battery will take time, but so far the results have been very encouraging. The science has been proved at laboratory scale and now we are advancing many aspects of materials used and design processes leading to the development and optimisation of production methodology. We are very pleased that Swinburne University of Technology has advised us that the pilot production line is a world first. We are confident that the advantages offered by our technology will bring revolutionary changes to how we use batteries in the future, with added safety, efficiencies and flexibilities. The BEST™ Battery will be a serious game changer”.
TALGA has made a number of noteworthy announcements recently as the company continues to advances its graphene business globally including the appointment of Dr Anna Motta to head up the Company's global graphene product research and development.
Dr Motta’s appointment as Talga’s Research and Development Manager will see her based in Cambridge with responsibilities including management of the Company’s wholly owned UK subsidiary, Talga Technologies Limited and Talga’s graphene product research and development projects globally. In this she joins Talga’s internationally renowned team of graphene technologists Dr Siva Bohm, Dr Mallika Bohm and Dr Sai Shivareddy. Dr Motta will also oversee the delivery of
scale up product developments at Talga’s test facility in Germany.
Dr Motta is an experienced nanomaterial program and technology manager. Her career includes science and management roles in carbon nanomaterial programs at the Helsinki University of Technology and, since 2005, the University of Cambridge, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy (UK). Since 2014, Dr Motta has held the position of Project Manager and Technology Transfer Officer for the Cambridge Graphene Centre (“CGC”) where her responsibilities included oversight of academic and industry collaborations with more than 100 institutions and companies across a large portfolio of UK-EU graphene projects and funding programs. Dr Motta holds a Master of Science (Chemistry) and a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry.
Talga Managing Director Mark Thompson commented: “We are delighted to welcome Anna to our senior management team. She brings a wealth of graphene industry, technology and management experience to Talga at this time of rapid growth in our vertically integrated graphene
business. We also look forward to further successful collaborations with the Cambridge Graphene Centre via their new management appointments.”
Cambridge Graphene Centre Director, Prof Andrea Ferrari, commented: “We are pleased that Anna is moving to Talga, one of the industrial partners of the Cambridge Graphene Centre and Associate Member of the Graphene Flagship. We welcome the strengthening of the Cambridge-based Talga activities on graphene, adding to the value chain of Cambridge-based advanced technology companies working on graphene innovation in close partnership with the CGC. We are also pleased Anna will become a member of our industrial advisory board."
Talga Resources Ltd has also announced the execution of a non-binding memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with Robert Bosch GmbH (“Bosch”) – a German based multinational engineering and electronics company.
Talga and Bosch have entered into the MOU to commence preparatory work regarding a development project in the field of utilising graphene in the synthesis of macroscopic structures. Talga Managing Director Mark Thompson commented, “Talga is excited to be working with Bosch on its graphene related applications. Bosch is a technology and manufacturing giant and we welcome formalisation of the relationship with them. Our intent is to leverage Talga’s strengths in graphene manufacture and dispersion technology toward success of the project”.
About Robert Bosch: Headquartered in Germany, Bosch is a privately owned engineering and
industrial technology conglomerate that is recognised as the world’s largest supplier of automotive components. Bosch has 450 subsidiaries and regional companies in over 60 countries with sales and service partners in roughly 150 countries. Bosch announced sales revenue in 2016 of ~€73.1 Billion and spent approximately €7 Billion on research and development over the same period.
Advanced materials company, First Graphene Limited (ASX: FGR) is working with the University of Adelaide (UoA) on graphene for industrial building products.
Graphene in Concrete
Experiments have been conducted on the use of graphene oxide (GO) being added to concrete to improve both compressive and tensile strength. However the hydrophilic and high resistivity nature of GO limits its applications in things such as ‘smart’ cement.
Due to the high aspect ratio of nano-reinforcements such as graphene and carbon nanotubes, they have the ability to arrest crack propagation in concrete (by controlling the nano-sized cracks before they form micro-sized cracks) and hence greatly improve peak toughness, making them more effective than even conventional steel bar or fibre reinforcements.
Premium Concrete Products – Smart Cement
Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) operates at such a high-performance level that it competes with steel rather than regular concrete grades. Advantages include lower lead times compared to steel. UHPC can cost in excess of $500/tonne, with enhancements such as micro-reinforcements further increasing the price.
Due to the immense importance of compression strength and other factors such as blast, ballistic and earthquake resistance, additive premiums can be significant. UHPC is over an order of magnitude more expensive than regular concrete, but in an environment where material usage and weight are such essential considerations, it can actually be cheaper to use the more expensive grades in the long run, especially factoring in the reduced maintenance costs incurred by UHPC.
The UoA is testing FGR graphene, with the aim of making “smart cement” with conductive graphene flakes which may;
i. address the concerns of cracking and corrosion, and
ii. provide conductivity for better monitoring the health of concrete structures.
The first test results indicate the addition of just 0.03% standard graphene by weight is the optimal quantity of graphene from the test conducted to date, showing a 22 - 23 % increase in compressive and tensile strength, respectively. The addition of more standard graphene does not increase or decrease the strength of the concrete material when compared to the control in this test work.
Promising Results with Favourable Economics
This initial work has yielded very promising results with very small amounts of FGR graphene required to greatly increase the strength of the materials. Determining the optimum mixing methods and concentration to develop a consistent material will be the key to further developing this project.
The focus of the next stage of the work will be trialling other concentrations of graphene in concrete, specifically loading at 0.01% and 0.1% graphene, and optimisation of the mixing procedures. New methods of incorporating graphene into the concrete mixture will also be trialled.
The graphene provided by FGR will have a range of aspect ratios (smaller sheet sizes) and will be tested over the full range of concentrations. It is anticipated this material will better disperse within the concrete mixture and therefore provide further mechanical strength improvements.
The concrete admixtures market is estimated to be worth US$18.10bn by 2020. The drivers identified for the concrete admixtures demand are growing infrastructure requirements in developing economies, improving economics of construction, and shifting preferences of population towards urbanisation.
Advanced materials company, First Graphene Limited (FGR), has provided an update on its development of the graphene based FireStop™ fire retardant material.
Development of the FireStop™ material is being conducted in conjunction with the University of Adelaide as part of the Company’s participation as a Tier 1 participant in the ARC Research Hub for Graphene Enabled Industry Transformation.
The video below shows the dramatic effectiveness of FireStop™when applied to simple wooden structures. Whereas the untreated structure on the left is totally consumed by fire, the structure treated with the FireStop™ retardant doesn’t even catch fire even after five minutes of trying to light it with a blow torch.
Given that fires generally start at specific ignition points, the ability of a graphene-based retardant to stop the ignition is a key feature of the product. The FireStop™ was applied in three coats, was applied by brush and was less than 500 μm thickness.
Note: There is no sound for this video.
The relevant characteristic of graphene that this demonstration highlights is the very high thermal conductivity i.e. the ability to disburse heat away from the source. FGR is highly encouraged by the results of this simple demonstration, which augers well for subsequent, more advanced and scientifically controlled demonstrations that are being undertaken.
The University of Adelaide has now received a UL-941 system for use in its workshop. It is also installing an LOI instrument for the generation of scientific data. These instruments will enable an acceleration of the test work being conducted to optimise the FireStop™ product and application methodology.
[ UL 94, the Standard for Safety of Flammability of Plastic Materials for Parts in Devices and Appliances testing, is a plastics flammability standard released by Underwriters Laboratories of the United States. The standard determines the material’s tendency to either extinguish or spread the flame once the specimen has been ignited. UL-94 is now harmonized with IEC 60707, 60695-11-10 and 60695-11-20 and ISO 9772 and 9773. ]
Further tests will be conducted to increase the viscosity of the product while maintaining the fire-retardant performance. This work will be the precursor to submitting FireStop™ to FGR’s own testing to the relevant fire standards and to CSIRO for independent testing in Q1 2018. In the meantime, the Company is entering negotiations with potential industry partners for the commercialisation of FireStop™.
A group of researchers from Denmark, UK and Spain within the Graphene Flagship project, explains in a recent review paper why the graphene industry needs better and faster electrical characterisation methods. The Graphene Flagship is a large European project, with more than hundred research groups collaborating on development of novel graphene technologies and applications.
Just 5 years after the first announcement that graphene could be isolated at all, Rod Ruoff (2009) and Samsung (2010) showed that graphene can be synthesized in a deceptively simple way; by decomposing hydrocarbons at high temperature, leaving single layer graphene sheets to crystallise on a copper surface.
Today, just 7 years later, graphene sheets are produced and used in large quantities – or areas – for instance for cell phone touch screens, according to Chinese researchers.
While large-area fabrication is taking off fast, the methods for quality control are lagging behind – and this is particularly true with respect to the electronic properties that are central to many applications.
Electrical measurements are most often done by turning the graphene film into a number of electrical devices, where field effect measurements give the “key performance indicators” of conductivity, carrier density and mobility. Depending on the number of devices, and the time spent on measuring, such tests can also give an idea about the variability. The two main drawbacks are ; (1) the process is fundamentally destructive – the graphene is irreversible damaged in the process, and (2) the throughput is many orders of magnitude smaller than the CVD-based fabrication of the graphene in the first place creating a bottleneck.
Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark and at the National Physics Laboratory in UK have over the past several years developed a number of fast, large-scale, non-destructive characterisation techniques of electronic properties that they believe have the potential to become game changing technologies.
A recent review focuses on one of these: terahertz time-domain spectroscopy (THz-TDS).
THz-TDS shoots terahertz pulses through the graphene and measures how much the film absorbs. The absorption spectrum up to 2 THz depends distinctly on the conductivity as well as on the scattering time – a measure of the average time the carrier spend between collision with obstacles.
Knowing these two, the carrier density and mobility can be computed. The technique has been meticulously verified against electrical measurements and is now being proposed as a metrology standard, in collaboration with the Spanish company DasNano, who are the first to manufacture terahertz-based conductivity mapping equipment for graphene.
Peter Bøggild, professor at DTU puts it like this: “Trivially, there can be no industry without quality, and there can be no quality without quality control. Non-contact mapping is fast and non-destructive, so anyone interested in consistency, reproducibility and reliability of graphene films, should pay attention.”
Quietly, behind the scenes and under the cover of NDA’s and confidentiality agreements, graphene is making significant commercial advances.
Speaking with graphene producers, the story this year has been consistent; they are selling material but they are unable to publicly disclose the end-users or the application areas due to the commercially sensitive information and the desire for their customers to maintain a first mover advantage.
So how do you promote a material for which there are limited examples and the customers will not agree to be named or to allow the products to be disclosed?
Based on conversations with producers, we know enough to be able to say with confidence that the majority of the material being sold is “bulk” graphene; this refers to graphene nano particles (GNPs), graphene oxide (GO) and reduced graphene oxide (rGO), graphene powders, graphene in suspension and graphene sold in master batches.
We know that the lion’s share of the market is for nanocomposite materials based on surveys of more than 400 graphene application developers, producers and end-users. In fact it is more than 50% of the total current market.
These applications include the use of graphene in plastics, polymers, 3D printing, rubber, with carbon fibers and CNTs, as well as in concrete and steel applications.
We also know that virtually every major bona fide graphene producer has announced or has indicated a significant production capacity increase for 2017, 2018 or 2019 at the latest, based on the market pull through for the material.
And this progress is not limited just to bulk graphene but also to single layer CVD graphene as well with the recent ability to produce wafer sized products at a dramatically reduced price compared to just 1 year prior.
How do we take the next steps towards greater commercialization?
The Graphene Council is working with vertical industries, like the composites sector, to help educate and inform those companies that would be the largest buyers and users of this material about how graphene enhances or enables better solutions (strength, flexibility, conductivity, wear resistance, thermal properties, etc.).
We see our mission as being a catalyst to help raise the level of awareness in the end-user community about the possibilities that graphene offers and to dispel some of the myths that have been created from the over-hyped expectations of the past few years.
In a recent review of more than 60 graphene products, more than 45 different material characteristics were listed by at least one of the materials studied. Yet not one single characteristic (not the carbon content, not the carbon layer count, etc.) was common across every product. In fact, there was not a single material characteristic as listed on the specifications sheets that was shared by more than 75% of the products listed.
It is impossible for a buyer of graphene to be able to compare products based on the spec sheets alone and it is prohibitively expensive to expect the consumer to test each supplier’s material to just know what they are getting.
As a result, we see a tremendous need to help buyers identify trusted suppliers of quality materials.
As we enter 2018, The Graphene Council will focus on accelerating the commercial adoption of graphene and representing the interests of our members by;
a.) educating targeted industries like composites, coatings, energy storage, etc.,
inov-8 is launching a revolutionary world-first in the sports footwear market following a unique collaboration with scientific experts. The British brand has teamed up with The University of Manchester to become the first-ever company to incorporate graphene into running and fitness shoes.
Laboratory tests have shown that the rubber outsoles of these shoes, new to market in 2018, are stronger, more stretchy and more resistant to wear.
Michael Price, inov-8 product and marketing director, said: “Off-road runners and fitness athletes live at the sporting extreme and need the stickiest outsole grip possible to optimize their performance, be that when running on wet trails or working out in sweaty gyms. For too long, they have had to compromise this need for grip with the knowledge that such rubber wears down quickly."
“Now, utilising the groundbreaking properties of graphene, there is no compromise. The new rubber we have developed with the National Graphene Institute at The University of Manchester allows us to smash the limits of grip."
“Our lightweight G-Series shoes deliver a combination of traction, stretch and durability never seen before in sports footwear. 2018 will be the year of the world’s toughest grip.”
Commenting on the collaboration and the patent-pending technology, inov-8 CEO Ian Bailey said: “Product innovation is the number-one priority for our brand. It’s the only way we can compete against the major sports brands. The pioneering collaboration between inov-8 and the The University of Manchester puts us – and Britain – at the forefront of a graphene sports footwear revolution."
“And this is just the start, as the potential of graphene really is limitless. We are so excited to see where this journey will take us.”
The scientists who first isolated graphene were awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010. Building on their revolutionary work, the team at The University of Manchester has pioneered projects into graphene-enhanced sports cars, medical devices and aeroplanes. Now the University can add sports footwear to its list of world-firsts.
Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, Reader in Nanomaterials at the University of Manchester, said: “Despite being the thinnest material in the world, graphene is also the strongest, and is 200 times stronger than steel. It’s also extraordinarily flexible, and can be bent, twisted, folded and stretched without incurring any damage.
“When added to the rubber used in inov-8’s G-Series shoes, graphene imparts all its properties, including its strength. Our unique formulation makes these outsoles 50% stronger, 50% more stretchy and 50% more resistant to wear than the corresponding industry standard rubber without graphene.”
“The graphene-enhanced rubber can flex and grip to all surfaces more effectively, without wearing down quickly, providing reliably strong, long-lasting grip."
“This is a revolutionary consumer product that will have a huge impact on the sports footwear market.”
Certainly as one of the leading research institutes in the world for the development of automotive technology, Fraunhofer has a global reputation for delivering the latest cutting edge breakthroughs in any technology associated with the automotive industry from energy storage to lightweight engineering.
Based on Fraunhofer’s titanic reputation in R&D, it was a stroke of luck that The Graphene Council was able to meet up with Fraunhofer’s Head of Functional Materials, Ivica Kolaric, at the Economist’s “The Future of Materials Summit” held in Luxembourg in mid-November.
In his role as leader of the functional material group at Fraunhofer, Kolaric has been conducting research on nanoscale carbon materials, like graphene, for almost 20 years. The aim of all this work has consistently been to produce functionalized nanoscale carbon materials to bring them to industrial applications.
Kolaric and his team have been working specifically on graphene since 2008 and have been synthesizing graphene using both chemical vapor deposition (CVD) as well as exfoliation techniques. With these various grades of graphene, the Fraunhofer researchers have experimented with a variety of applications.
“We first started with applications in the field of energy storage and transparent conductive films,” said Kolaric in an interview at the Luxembourg conference. “As you may remember there was a big discussion a few years back going on if graphene could serve as a replacement for idium tin oxide (ITO). But we determined that this is maybe not the right application for graphene because when you use it large areas for conductive films it’s competing with commodity products.”
Kolaric also explained that Fraunhofer had collaborated with battery manufacturer Maxell in the development of different types of energy storage devices, specifically supercapacitors. They had some success in increasing the energy density of these devices, which is an energy storage device’s ability to store a charge. With the graphene, the increased surface area of graphene did give a boost to storage capabilities but it just couldn’t deliver enough of an increase in performance over its costs, according to Kolaric.
Now Kolaric says that Fraunhofer is looking at graphene in sensor applications, in particular biosensors. “Graphene is really a perfect substrate for doping, so you can make it sensitive for any kind of biological effects,” said Kolaric. “This could make it a very good biosensor.”
But Kolaric cautions that avenues for purification have to be developed. If this and other issues can be addressed with graphene, there is the promise of a sensor technology that could be very effective at detecting gases, which currently is tricky for automotive sensors that are restricted to detecting pressure and temperature. “I think graphene can play an important role in this,” added Kolaric.
In addition to next generation sensors, Kolaric believes that graphene’s efficiency as a conductor could lead to it being what he terms an “interlink” on the submicron level. Kolaric believes that this will lead to its use in power electronics.
Kolaric added: “I would say sensors and serving as an interlink, so these are the two occasions where we think graphene can be effective.”