Accelerating the Standards Process for Graphene
An Interview with Terrance Barkan, Executive Director of the Graphene Council
Finding ways to help the standards bodies accelerate the establishment of standards, the Graphene Council hopes to speed the adoption of the material by industry
Standards in any industry are aimed at establishing a uniform quality of product. If you pay for the best, you can be assured you’re getting the best because it has met the industry standards for achieving that grade.
Of course, in the absence of standards, markets have a way of establishing their own version until official ones are enforced. With an emerging material this is quite common; business must move on with or without standards. In this case, a buyer may discover that one supplier provides the right quality product while another does not, and fairly quickly the lower quality product loses market favor and so too the supplier.
However, these market-driven standards come at a cost. A buyer may have established a good relationship with a supplier and then bought product in bulk from them only to discover that the quality of the product was below that to which they had become accustomed.
Currently, there are no industry-sanctioned standards for graphene to ensure this does not happen. It is known, of course, that there are many different kinds of graphene and in these different types there are differing levels of quality. But if a large electronics manufacturer wants to start using graphene as a material to replace indium tin oxide (ITO) as a transparent conductor in its displays, it is going to need to have the same kind of assurances that they get from ITO standards. It’s really that simple.
Terrance Barkan, the Executive Director of the Graphene Council, has been leading the efforts to establish these standards for graphene. We speak to him to understand a bit more about the project and where it all stands at this point.
Q. What are the regulatory bodies that you and The Graphene Council are working with in developing standards for graphene, and why were these bodies chosen?
Terrance—The Graphene Council is a member of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) / International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 229 Nanotechnologies and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) TC 113 Standards Development Groups. We are also in discussions to collaborate with the European Union Graphene Flagship on standards. ANSI, ISO and IEC are formal technical standards setting bodies and as such are the natural home for standards for graphene materials.
Q. Are there any other groups working on graphene standards?
Terrance—There are the formal standards setting organizations mentioned above as well as the Graphene Flagship (which is expected to start official graphene setting activities in early 2016). In addition, you have the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the UK (which is also working with ISO through the Nanotechnologies Technical Committee TC229, and the IEC TC 113). The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US is also working on the development of graphene standards, in particular, measurement techniques and tolerances.
Q. What precisely is the role of the Graphene Council in the establishing of standards, and what role could members of the The Graphene Council play in their development?
Terrance—While the natural home for formal technical standards is with bodies like ANSI / ISO/ IEC / NIST, the development of standards through these organizations often takes many years. Meanwhile, the commercial market for graphene is evolving every day and the lack of commercial standards for these materials is a major obstacle. Producers and users alike need to have a consistent approach to the development and use of these materials, including the use of industry peer developed standards that everyone can trust.
Our goal as The Graphene Council is not to replicate what traditional standards organizations are doing but to help accelerate the process. We already have more than 50 volunteers that are working on the development of industry agreed standards to help accelerate the commercial application and acceptance of graphene. Our volunteers include individuals that are also active in the formal standards setting organizations, forming a conduit for the sharing of information.
Q. It has been suggested that regulations often lag behind the market; that market dynamics form a sort de facto set of standards. Is this not the case with graphene? And if not, why not?
Terrance—As mentioned above, traditional standards development processes are often excruciatingly slow, taking many years to produce a usable standard. In the meantime, the graphene industry (producers, materials processing companies, batch processors and users) have not yet come together in any way to coordinate their efforts. This is another key role we see for The Graphene Council and specifically, the Graphene Producers Council within the group. We offer a neutral platform for graphene industry players to address common business issues, like the setting of standards, that they in turn can use to build their business.
Q. Where are we at this point in this work with the regulatory bodies (i.e. are regulations being written or is research still ongoing)? What is the likely timeframe before standards are published?
It is early days for the formal standard setting organizations in the development of graphene standards. It is impossible to know exactly how long the process will take but I feel safe to say it may take 3-5 years based on past experience. In the meantime, our objective for The Graphene Council is to provide a set of usable standards for producers and consumers of graphene materials within 12-16 months covering the following areas:
- Physical characteristics
- Measurement methodologies, equipment and tolerances
- Electrical properties
- Mechanical properties
- Chemical properties
- Optical properties
- Methods of production
- Batch numbers and traceability
- Standardized symbols/labeling and quality assays
The Graphene Council was formed to serve the needs of the broader graphene industry. We feel that setting industry-defined standards is a high priority.