When we conducted our survey of more than 400 graphene researchers, developers, producers and users earlier this year, less than 10% thought that graphene was a sustainable commercial market today. However, almost 2/3’s felt that graphene would develop into a sustainable commercial market in 6 years or less. (Survey 2016).
Based on the feedback and discussions at the Graphene Canada 2016 conference held in Montreal recently, graphene commercialization is a lot closer than most people are aware.
Because graphene has properties that can be applied to such a wide range of potential applications, it is not always easy to see where this material is already being used or where development is most advanced.
A graphene “killer application”?
There has been a lot of hype around graphene because of its superlative properties and the promise it holds for radical or revolutionary new applications, products and solutions.
There has been an equal measure of disappointment that it has not yet produced a “killer application”, a solution that solves a major problem that is possible because of graphene’s unique properties.
The less sexy, but much more likely path to successful commercialization of graphene, lies in its use in more traditional materials like composites, thermosets (such as epoxies, polyurethane and polyester) and plastics.
For example, Huntsman Advanced Materials (a division of the Huntsman Corporation, a publicly traded global manufacturer and marketer of differentiated chemicals with $10 billion in revenues) is working with graphene specialist firm Haydale to develop graphene enhanced ARALDITE® resins for composite applications. These products are used in the industrial composites, automotive and aerospace markets.
Huntsman's ARALDITE® resins are being enhanced using Haydale’s expertise in functionalisation of Graphene Nano Platelets (GNP’S) and other nano materials to create highly loaded master batches and to improve thermal / electrical conductivity and mechanical performance. The ultimate objective of the collaboration will be to commercialise graphene enhanced ARALDITE® resins for a range of applications in the
It is telling that Huntsman, a company whose chemical products number in the thousands and are sold worldwide, has identified graphene as a critical new additive to enhance one of their most important industrial products.
The global polymer market alone is worth at least $658 billion. Even if only a small percentage of this market begins using graphene as a standard additive to improve product performance, it will help support a viable market for graphene producers and formulators.
Additive Manufacturing, or 3D Printing, is a relatively new and exciting area of activity that is revolutionizing how objects are designed, prototyped and made. It is also a perfect example of how graphene can be used in combination with other traditional materials to create new capabilities and products.
There are already three companies that offer graphene impregnated 3D printing filaments (Haydale, Graphene 3d Labs and Directa Plus) that are in turn letting creative designers develop products that are electrically conductive or that have superior physical properties (stronger, scratch resistant, better UV protections, etc.).
Graphene is added to traditional polymers, paints and coatings to change their performance characteristics. Another company, NanoXplore is producing products as far ranging as specialty paints to fishing buoys (floats that are used in conjunction with fishing nets, crab pots, and related applications) that use graphene to make these products more robust and survivable in very harsh marine environments.
What is unique about graphene is that it can make a significant improvement with very small loadings (as little as 1% or less) as compared to competing materials that may require as much as 25-30% loads to make significant performance differences.
What this means is that although graphene materials are currently quite expensive per gram or kilogram, the very low loading levels makes graphene a competitive additive on a cost / benefit basis.
It is difficult to overstate the enormous potential graphene holds to impact an almost unlimited range of industrial sectors, from water treatment to aerospace, from opto-electrical sensors to energy storage, from bio-medical applications to basic materials.
So while university scientists and corporate research and development departments around the world continue to work on the more complicated problems where graphene might disrupt industries like semi-conductors or new generation photocells, graphene is proving its worth in somewhat mundane but equally important industrial materials applications.