Applied Graphene Materials, originally spun out of Durham University and now based in Redcar, is creating a new range of graphene-enhanced anti-corrosion aerosols for James Briggs.
AGM say the completion of its first production batch is a "significant milestone" and they now plan to work towards a full product launch.
Based at the Wilton Centre, near Redcar, AGM makes powdered graphene, with the substance hailed by some experts as being capable of conducting electricity a million times better than copper, despite being as thin as human hair.
The business has developed a form of graphene it says can deliver a six-fold improvement in barrier and anti-corrosion properties, with James Briggs expected to use the product in primers to offer greater protection from weathering.
Bosses claim testing had demonstrated "repeated improvements in anti-corrosion performance".
Bryan Dobson, chairman of Applied Graphene Materials, said: "The Board continues to focus on the commercialisation of its products and proprietary technologies via its numerous active engagements and has made good progress in recent months.
"I am pleased to report that we have recently achieved a key milestone, having fulfilled the scale-up production purchase order from James Briggs Ltd in preparation for full product launch.
"JBL has successfully completed its first production batch which is a significant milestone for commercial realisation. Extensive testing has demonstrated repeated and outstanding improvements in anti-corrosion performance for JBL’s automotive aerosol primer. JBL plans to launch their new range of graphene enhanced anti-corrosion aerosols under their Hycote brand."
Mr Dobson als said the firm was pleased to participate in the opening of the UK’s Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC) in Manchester last week.
"Meeting with multiple participants, the opportunities for graphene technology remain buoyant," he said.
"Finding practical application solutions for the challenges surrounding the exploitation of graphene nanoplatelet technology is the key focus of AGM’s strategy for commercial progress.
"We look forward to working closely with GEIC in the months ahead in the further development of world-class application solutions."
James Briggs was founded almost two centuries ago and they have the capacity to distribute up to 150 million aerosols.
California-based NTherma is leveraging a proprietary graphene production method based on the unzipping of multiwalled carbon nanotubes into graphene nanoplatelets or nanoribbons.
The backgrounds of NTherma’s co-founders Cattien V. Nguyen, President & CEO, and Thuy Ngo, VP Business Developments & Investor Relations, cover both the science of graphene as well as its business development. Nguyen’s background contains some of the heavy hitters in nanomaterials research over the last 20 years: IBM Almaden Research Center and Stanford University.
With their manufacturing process offering a high degree of customization, NTherma is targeting applications that exploit this inherent flexibility that other manufacturing techniques can’t so easily deliver on.
As a new Corporate Member of The Graphene Council, we got the opportunity to ask them about how they are approaching the market with their novel manufacturing technique, some of the challenges they are facing and how they plan to overcome them.
Q: Could you provide us more details about your method for producing graphene? It appears from your website that it may be a bottom-up approach. Is it a CVD-enabled process or direct chemical synthesis? And what kind of graphene does it produce?
Our graphene production method is different from the two current production processes.We don't produce graphene by CVD of single layer directly on a metal substrate and we don't produce graphene by exfoliating graphite.Both of these production methods have a number of tradeoffs including cost, purity, and control of structural parameters.
NTherma's unique approach to the production of graphene starts with our patent-pending method of producing carbon nanotubes (CNTs) that have high purity and high degree control of lengths and diameters, and most importantly a much lower production cost.NTherma's graphene is then derived by the chemical conversion of high quality CNTs.
Depending on the degree of chemical oxidation process, the produced graphene can be nanoplatelets or nanoribbons, or a combination of the two types.Our ability to control the CNT length and their high purity together translates to high quality graphene at a much lower cost.Of particularly importance is the availability of graphene nanoribbons at a large scale with controlled length, high purity, and much lower cost. This will open up a number of applications not currently feasible with commercially available graphene.
Could you let us know what applications you are targeting for your graphene? And can you tell us a bit about how you came to target these applications?
We are currently focusing on the following applications:
1.Graphene for Oil Additives: These reduce engine friction, improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions.We differentiate our graphene as an oil additive in that our graphene forms a stable dispersion in oil with a demonstrated shelf life of greater than 12 months.
2.Coatings:There are many coating applications employing graphene and currently we are working with a few partners to integrate our graphene products.We are also focusing on applications such as touchscreen and display as well as smart windows that other graphene materials have not been able to effectively address.
3.Lithium-ion (Li-ion) Batteries:Preliminary test results are positive. We're looking for partners to continue developing and testing the process.
Because of our unique customization ability, we can alter length, layers and uniformity of our graphene per customers' requests.Realizing that our high quality and consistent materials can unlock previous bottlenecks that other graphene products couldn't resolve, we chose these applications in the order provided as we see these applications and markets having the highest potential and where our technology will have the highest impact.
You are also producing multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs). How do you see this fitting with your graphene production?
We produce MWCNTs for several other applications such as thermal management and also carbon nanotube yarns in development with a commercial partner.
We also produce our graphene by the chemical conversion of MWNTs.
Is your strategy to remain a graphene and MWCNT producer, or do you see yourself moving further up the value chain to make devices from these materials?
We will focus on scaling up the production of high quality MWCNTs and graphene for the near future.At the same time, we are developing, or have plans to develop, other applications and markets by ourselves or with partners in order to add more value to our business by strategically positioning our unique technology in a variety of verticals.
What do you see as the greatest challenge for your business in making an impact the commercialization of graphene, i.e. customer education, lack of standards, etc.?And what do you believe can be done to overcome these challenges?
The greatest challenges as a business for us have been our efforts to work with the end users and to understand as well as to educate the potential customers of our unique graphene products for any particular applications and product development processes.Not all graphene products are the same in their purity, structural parameters such as size and number of layers, and cost.These facts have to be made known to the end users and have to match with the end user's specific application.
Additionally, we also have to overcome clients' negative experiences with using other producers' inconsistent quality products.We have to resolve these issues by continuing to work closely with our potential customers and partners by helping them to understand the materials and also optimizing and testing products for specific applications ourselves to provide clients with testing procedures and data (both in a lab environment and in real life).
The Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC) is a £60 million facility that specialises in the development and scale-up of graphene and other 2D materials for industrial purposes.
As the home of industry-led innovation with graphene and 2D materials at the University of Manchester, work at the GEIC is focused around creating, testing and optimisining new concepts for delivering products to market as well as the processes needed to scale up production and build and maintain a supply chain.
Working with the National Graphene Institute, the GEIC complements their research with work in six key areas of focus:
Inks, formulations and coatings
Graphene production and pilot facility
Measurements and characterisation
Why is this important?
The GEIC facility makes industry standard equipment available for rapid prototyping and testing, allowing companies (especially those that do not have multi-million dollar R&D facilities) to develop cutting edge graphene enhanced products with less risk and on an accelerated schedule.
Equally important, the GEIC facility is housed on the Univeristy of Manchester's campus, providing easy access to the world's leading graphene research team of PhD's and experts.
Working with The Graphene Council and the GEIC
The Graphene Council is an Affiliate Member of the GEIC and has UK based colleagues that can help you take your graphene innovation ideas from concept to prototype on an accelerated pace. Getting to market faster saves you time and money while providing a competitive advantage.
Using our extensive knowledge and graphene market insights, we can help you to craft a graphene innovation strategy. The Graphene Council can then help you realize this strategy through the use of development facilities, like the GEIC, and by leveraging our close relationships with the leading graphene producers around the world.
If you would like help, whether it is to find the right graphene material supplier or support to bring your graphene innovation to life, contact us here by defining your requirement: http://bit.ly/GrapheneSolution
About The Graphene Council - We are the largest community in the world for graphene professionals that includes graphene producers, academics, standards developers, users and application developers.
Australian advanced materials technology company, Talga Resources Ltd (“Talga” or “the Company”)(ASX: TLG), has achieved outstanding conductivity results from Talphene®-enhanced epoxy composite trials undertaken at TWI in the UK.
Carbon fibre reinforced polymer (“CFRP”) panels were constructed using a dispersion of Talga graphene (Talphene®) in the epoxy based resin of the composite and subjected to a range of conductivity tests pertinent to aircraft applications.
Results showed the Talphene® panel provided similar lightning strike protection as copper mesh panels currently used in composite aircraft but saved 75% of the weight of the copper (Figs 1,2 and Table 1). Further results demonstrating Talphene®’s significant conductivity included up to 500% increase in dielectric constant, 100% increase in resin thermal conductivity as well as spot temperatures well over 100 degrees celsius in anti-icing trials (Fig 3). As CFRP resins are normally non-conductive, these results are highly positive.
The ability to improve the weight, electrical and thermal conductivity of CFRP composites has significant benefits for applications such as lightning strike protection and wing anti-icing on aircraft, both of which currently use heavy copper mesh. The same technology would also be of benefit to wind turbine blades that require manual or chemical de-icing in winter (Fig 4).
Figure 1 Managing Director, Mark Thompson and Chief Technology Officer Dr Siva Bohm showing some of the CFRP test panels after lightning strike tests (Talphene® panel on right in both photos).
Note the rear of the Talphene® panel (far right) shows no exit puncture. The copper mesh panel shows damage from further testing but would also otherwise show no puncture.
Talga Managing Director, Mr Mark Thompson: “Tests show that Talphene®-enhanced conductive composites can do the same job as copper, but with less weight, easier application and therefore potentially much lower lifetime costs. These highly encouraging outcomes follow our earlier test results showing increased strength and toughness of epoxy resins and we can now move to addressing the full range of market opportunities for Talphene® products across the composites sector.”
Talga graphene enhanced epoxy composite prototypes were tested at TWI, a respected material science and engineering institute near Cambridge, UK, and Cobham Technical Services under certified aerospace standard laboratory conditions.
The prototype formulation was prepared using Talphene® produced from the Company’s Vittangi graphite deposit in Sweden and dispersed using a proprietary method developed by Talga Technologies Limited in the UK.
The program assessed epoxies from Hexcel, 3M, Bitrez and Huntsman with which to disperse the Talphene® and construct the CFRP samples to be tested.
Tests were conducted on 600mm x 600mm, three-ply CFRP panel samples measuring electrical properties by dielectric constant, thermal conductivity according to ISO8301:1991 Ed1, lightning strike tests at Cobham Technical Services according to EUROCAE ED-105A to Zone 2A strike specification and anti-icing tests by Joule heating using MacGregor power supply and thermal imaging. SEM and optical microscopy confirmed dispersion of the Talphene® into the resin.
Table 1 Summary of Cobham Technical Services lightning strike test data showing similar performance of Talphene® enhanced CFRP panel to that using copper mesh.
Figure 3 Anti-icing tests of Talphene® enhanced CFRP panel using an electric current (Left) with thermal imagery showing temperature at rest (Centre) and under voltage (Right).
The global composite market is worth over USD$82 billion/year1 and is rapidly growing across sectors in aerospace, renewable energy and automotive markets driven by increased demand for lower weight, higher strength and multi-functionality.
By 2024, the total volume of the CFRP composite material market is predicted to be in excess of 290,000 tonnes2. Key producers include companies such as Toray, Toho Tenax, Mitsubishi, Hyosung, Cytec, Plasan, Hexcel Corp, SGL (Germany), Gurit (Switzerland) and Formosa Plastics Corporation.
Figure 4 Example of expensive and high enviro-impact chemical de-icing of wind turbine blades in northern hemisphere winter. Turning the CFRP blade into a self- powered heating element offers a better solution.
Graphene enhanced composites are one of the four key sectors of Talga’s commercialisation strategy and these test results validate the Company’s focus and potential in this sector. Talga will now progress its products in the composites market using these prototype test results as the catalyst to initiate joint development and commercial agreements with global end users.
Talga Resources Ltd is an advanced materials technology company enabling stronger, lighter and more functional products for the multi-billion dollar global coatings, battery, construction and polymer composites markets via graphene and graphite products. The company has significant advantages owing to its 100% owned unique high grade graphite deposits in Sweden and in-house processing and product technology. Joint development programs are underway with a range of international corporations.
Posted By Terrance Barkan,
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Updated: Friday, October 26, 2018
On 26 October 2018 we reported that the advanced materials company, First Graphene Ltd (“FGR”) (ASX: FGR) released an update on the use of its PureGRAPH™ products in the mining services sector.
FGR has now followed up with a confirmed purchase order for 2,000 kg of their PureGRAPH™ material to be delivered during 2019, for use in the Armour-GRAPH™ product range in a mining equipment application.
The purchase order for 2,000kg of PureGRAPH™ range products from newGen for delivery during 2019, represents a significant development not only for FGR, but also for the broader graphene market. It demonstrates the initial market appetite for high quality bulk graphene products of the type in which FGR specialises. Up until now the graphene sector has been supplying mostly samples for evaluation. This order represents a step change in the business as it starts to scale up for larger size orders.
Pleasingly, the premium price to be received pursuant to the order debunks the myth that graphene is expensive. The productivity benefits and material performance improvements experienced when PureGRAPHTM is added to materials more than compensate for the cost of the graphene, and it underpins the pricing strategy employed by First Graphene.
As previously reported (see article below) FGR is working closely with newGen Group to provide performance enhancement to their existing products with the addition of PureGRAPH™ graphene products. newGen Group has recently introduced a branded Amour-GRAPH™ product range of wear liners for bucket wheel, pipe spools and conveyor heavy equipment applications.
In a recent development, the Company was pleased to confirm further progress in its R&D collaboration with newGen Group. newGen is supplying a wear lining system for dryer chute applications to a large Australian cement producer in their Perth facility. It is a leading supplier of cement and lime to the Western Australia’s mining, agriculture and construction industries.
Each 50m2 liner will contain 10 to 12kg of PureGRAPH™ and is a further significant step in the adoption of First Graphene products into large industrial applications. PureGRAPH™ has been demonstrated to provide up to 37% improved tensile strength and improve abrasion resistance by 100% to 500% in high performance polyurethanes.
newGen has now issued a purchase order for 2,000kg (2 tonnes) of PureGRAPHTM to be drawn down as it wins tenders during 2019. There is one final regulatory approval required before the first sale is effected, being the registration of graphene by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) in Australia.
Similarly, the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) needs to be completed for sales in the European Union. These registration processes are currently underway and they are not expected to provide any meaningful delays.
The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) registration process is required for all chemicals used in industry in Australia. Within the European Union REACH registration is required if an organisation plans to sell greater than one tonne of a chemical within the EU or United Kingdom. First Graphene Ltd has already joined the consortium which is registering graphene as a new chemical. The consortium consists of three graphene organisations, one from China, one from Canada and one European producer.
Managing Director, Craig McGuckin, stated: “We said that we were the world’s leading graphene company, and we are now proving it with this sales order – the start of many. We do not believe there is another company which could deliver both the volume and the consistent quality this order requires. We are now entering an exciting growth phase as industries all around the world are starting to look at ways in which they can use graphene to improve their products and lower their operating costs”.
newGen Managing Director, Ben Walker stated: “My Company has had considerable interest generated for our new Armour-GRAPH™ range since we started developing PureGRAPH enhanced products with First Graphene. The graphene enhanced resin was added seamlessly into our mixing procedure. It is not labour intensive or complicated with regard to our standard operating practices.”
ORIGINAL ARTICLE - 26 OCT 2018
FGR is working closely with a number of companies to demonstrate performance enhancement of their products through the addition of its PureGRAPH™ graphene products. In this case, the wear-life of mining equipment can be extended with the inclusion of PureGRAPH™ graphene into protective polymer linings.
The rapid progress made with these polymer linings was enabled by the high consistency of PureGRAPH™ products and the ease of dispersion into the polymer resin. The know-how being acquired is readily transferable to a vast range of other polymer products, in many industries. The suitability of the PureGRAPH™ is particularly pleasing as it confirms this is a commercially superior product.
It is expected that, as manufacturing companies start to witness the improvements that graphene can offer, there will be an acceleration of demand for supplies of PureGRAPH™. First Graphene is well-positioned to satisfy the demand as it enters an exciting growth phase.
PureGRAPH™ graphene has been successfully incorporated into a high volume application in the mining sector.
A full scale mining reclaimer bucket was cast for an on-site trial with a multi-national mining company
Test work has confirmed PureGRAPH™ readily disperses into the polymer resin used
Further bucket linings will be cast and sold for use in northern Australia with a multi-national mining group
PureGRAPH™ enhanced polymer liners for a range of associated applications will also be trialled
This success with a graphene-enhanced bucket lining will open an important growth curve for graphene enhanced rubbers and composites
There are 12 buckets on the wheel for the machine these buckets are destined for, each with a capacity is 2.2 m3. The reclaimer has a nominal machine capacity is 12,000 tph and maximum capacity is 14,500 tph in bauxite.
As announced in June 2018 FGR is working with newGen Group on equipment used in the mining industry to improve polyurethane liners to protect them from excessive abrasion and increase their useful life.
Since then FGR and newGen have conducted various tests using PureGRAPH™ in polyurethane to determine the best suited PureGRAPH™ product and the optimum quantity to be added. These tests have demonstrated that the PureGRAPH™ product provides significantly increased flexural strength to the base polyurethane product.
newGen have now cast a liner for a Sandvik reclaimer bucket using PureGRAPH™ 20 and are now working with FGR on the use of a PureGRAPH™ enhance polyurethane in other high volume mining applications in the iron ore industry where newGen are preferred supplier.
FGR Managing Director, Craig McGuckin, stated: “Achieving the creation of this bucket liner for a multi-national end user is a credit to Ben’s foresight and the team at FGR.”
newGen’s Ben Walker stated:“We are pleased to be at the forefront of graphene use in mining materials. It has been excellent to work with the calibre of people at First Graphene in this march towards supplying our valued clients with ground breaking, high performance materials.”
About First Graphene Ltd (ASX: FGR)
First Graphene has established a commercial graphene production facility for the bulk scale manufacture of graphene at competitive prices. The Company continues to develop graphene related intellectual property from which it intends to generate licence and royalty payments.
The Company has collaboration arrangements with four universities and is at the cutting edge of graphene and 2D related material developments. Most recently First Graphene has become a Tier 1 participant in the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC) of the University of Manchester. First Graphene is working with numerous industry partners for the commercialisation of graphene and is building a sales book with these industry partners.
PureGRAPH™ Range of Products
The PureGRAPH™ range of products were released by FGR in September 2018, in conjunction with a detailed Product Information Sheet. PureGRAPH™ graphene powders are available with lateral platelet sizes of 20μm, 10μm and 5μm. The products are characterised by their low defect level and high aspect ratio.
Graphene, the well-publicised and now famous two-dimensional carbon allotrope, is as versatile a material as any discovered on Earth. Its amazing properties as the lightest and strongest material, compared with its ability to conduct heat and electricity better than anything else, means it can be integrated into a huge number of applications. Initially this will mean graphene is used to help improve the performance and efficiency of current materials and substances, but in the future, it will also be developed in conjunction with other two-dimensional (2D) crystals to create some even more amazing compounds to suit an even wider range of applications.
One area of research which is being very highly studied is energy storage. Currently, scientists are working on enhancing the capabilities of lithium ion batteries (by incorporating graphene as an anode) to offer much higher storage capacities with much better longevity and charge rate. Also, graphene is being studied and developed to be used in the manufacture of supercapacitors which can be charged very quickly, yet also be able to store a large amount of electricity.
San Diego based graphene and 2D materials producer Grolltex has completed characterization and is releasing for commercial sale a configuration of large area, single layer graphene that exhibits dramatically improved ‘electron mobility’, which translates to better graphene performance. This ‘heterostructure’ contains a layer or layers of hexagonal Boron Nitride (or ‘hBN’) underneath graphene, enabling enhanced graphene capabilities.
Grolltex has begun commercial pre-sales to customers of this ‘Enhanced Performance Graphene’ product, which can significantly improve device performance for sensing, transistors, connectivity and other key aspects of nano-devices. This type of material performance improvement is often a stepping stone for new applications enabling large market growth toward faster, smaller, cheaper and more sensitive silicon-based devices.
“The data back from our large European device partner showed carrier mobility performance improvements starting at 30%, and our internal work shows us that with some configuration adjustments, we can even build on this toward electron mobility improvements in exponential regimes”, said Jeff Draa, Grolltex CEO and co-founder. “We believe this is going to be incredibly important to many of our customers that build things on silicon”.
The first reason for the improvement of graphene electron mobility performance, when layered on top of hBN on a wafer, is that the underlying layer of hBN, between the wafer and the graphene, planarizes the surface of the silicon wafer and allows graphene to sit on a surface (hBN) far more conducive to graphene electron flow.
Another reason has to do with the electron interference of the oxide coming out of the underlying Si/SiO2 wafer, if graphene sits directly on top of it. With the hBN layer between the graphene and the wafer, the negative effect of the oxide from the wafer on graphene electron performance is greatly reduced, allowing a much freer flow of graphene electrons. Additional advantages are lower processing temperatures and a much stronger adhesion of the graphene layer to the underlying substrate, with hBN present.
“So, when graphene sits on hBN, it performs much closer to the theoretical ‘electron superhighway’ that graphene users expect”, according to Draa. “We have characterized and are selling this heterostructure to our pre-qualified customers in up to 8” (200mm) diameter configurations and can layer hBN and graphene in any combination”.
“Device designers, especially advanced sensor makers, are really keyed in to electron mobility. There are many variables that affect this and he who can square those away and show dramatic improvements in mobility can help add real, unique and substantial value to device performance”, said Draa. “Next on our characterization list is MoS2, which is an important ‘band-gap’ material that has been missing in 2D offerings.”
Grolltex, short for ‘graphene-rolling-technologies’, uses patented research and techniques initially developed at the University of California, San Diego, to produce high quality, single layer graphene, hexagonal Boron Nitride and other 2D materials and products. The company is a practitioner of, and specializes in, exclusively sustainable graphene production methods and is committed to advancing the field of graphene to improve the future of leading edge materials science and product design through the optimization of single atom thick materials.
Grolltex, Inc., is a nanotechnology materials, products and equipment company focusing on the optimization and advancement of the key monolayer material ‘graphene’ and related 2D materials. The company holds a number of strategic patents and technological advantages in areas relating to the manufacture of high quality, monolayer ‘CVD’ graphene and hexagonal Boron Nitride as well as on several advanced products made of graphene and 2D materials, such as hyper efficient solar cells, next generation sensors, advanced fuel cells and futuristic super-thin and flexible displays for use in wearables, smart phones and other electronics.
For complete information, please visit: https://grolltex.com/
With well over a decade in the business, XG Sciences is considered one of the most established graphene producers in the world.It is behind one of graphene’s most high-profile applications in Callaway’s introduction of its so-called Chrome Soft golf ball that employs graphene supplied by XG Sciences to make the golf balls both softer and harder where they need to be.
XG Sciences recently became a corporate partner of the Graphene Council and we took that occasion to discuss with the company’s CEO, Philip Rose, the graphene market in general and how XG Science’s product line fits into that market.
We also were able to learn how graphene supply chains are developed and secured and how the introduction of graphene into many different products can be supported and promoted. Here’s our interview.
Q: XG Sciences produces graphene platelets. Could you explain where that places you in the graphene marketplace (as opposed to monosheets of graphene)? What sort of applications does that product open up for you?
A:The term “graphene” is often used to cover a variety of specific forms of the material, but we generally think about two broad classes of graphene materials – monolayer and nanoplatelet. One-atom thick films are commonly referred to as monolayer graphene and are manufactured from gases by assembling molecules to form relatively large, transparent sheets of material. We do not manufacture these films and do not participate in the markets for these films. In general, we believe that the markets for these films do not compete with those for graphene nanoplatelets.
XG Sciences offers an advanced material platform in the form of varying grades of xGnP® graphene nanoplatelets produced from two processes, each of which can be customized in many ways. Our proprietary manufacturing processes control the attributes of graphene nanoparticles. These attributes contribute to a range of properties that can be mapped to various end-market applications from automotive to sporting goods to packaging.
Because we have multiple production processes, and because we have invested in application know-how and development of value-added product formulations, we are able to address a range of needs in multiple market segments in a cost effective manner, providing breadth to our base capabilities and product portfolio. We believe these are all key differentiators in the market.
Based on the past 10 years of customer development activity, we understand that performance of graphene nanoplatelets in a specific application is primarily a function of the platelet’s diameter, thickness, planarity (or more broadly – morphology), and to some extent, the nature and concentration of any chemical groups on the platelets. There are other factors that may impact performance, such as optimized dispersion, product form delivered to the customer (powder vs. slurry), and so on. However, for the most part, performance in an application is related to the physical characteristics of the nanoplatelets. XG Sciences is skilled in the design and manufacture of graphene nanoplatelets, and our two proprietary manufacturing processes allow for the production of a broad product portfolio that can meet many needs across diverse end-use markets.
We sell bulk graphene nanoplatelets under the brand name xGnP®. These materials are produced in various grades, which are analogous to average particle thickness and average particle diameters. There are three commercial grades (Grades H, M and R), each of which is offered in three standard particle sizes and a fourth, C Grade, which is offered in three standard surface areas.
These bulk materials, which can be shipped in the form of a dry powder, are especially applicable for use as additives in polymeric or metallic composites, or in coatings or other formulations where particular electrical, thermal and/or barrier applications are desired. We also offer our materials in the form of dispersions of nanoplatelets in liquids such as water, alcohol and other organic solvents, or mixed into resins or polymers such as PET, polypropylene and urethanes.
As stated previously, we use two different commercial processes to produce these bulk materials. Grade H/M/R materials are produced through chemical intercalation of natural graphite followed by thermal exfoliation using a proprietary process developed by XG Sciences. Some of our process components are patented but we have chosen to keep others as trade secrets.The “grade” designates the thickness and surface characteristics of these materials, and each grade is available in various average particle diameters. Surface area, calculated by the Brunauer, Emmet, and Teller (BET) Method, is used as a convenient proxy for thickness. So, each grade of products produced through chemical intercalation is designated by its average surface area, which ranges from 50 to 150 m2/g of material.
We also use direct methods to measure layer thickness such as tunneling electron microscopy (TEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM). We are able to extend the surface area higher than those listed here (and therefore, to fewer layer nanoplatelets) but are not yet producing these materials commercially. As the market need emerges for few-layer graphene, we will consider making these materials available commercially.
Grade C materials, and some related composite materials, are produced through a high-shear mechanical exfoliation using a proprietary and patented process with equipment that we invented, designed, and constructed. The Grade C materials are smaller particles than those grades produced through chemical exfoliation. Grade C materials are designated by their BET surface area, which ranges from 300 to 800 m2/g. We are able to produce surface areas as low as 150 m2/g and as high as 900 m2/g but are not yet making those commercially available.Should the market need them, we are ready to supply them.
We consider ourselves a “platform play” in advanced materials because our proprietary manufacturing processes allow us to produce varying grades of graphene nanoplatelets that can be mapped to a variety of applications in many market segments. However, we prioritize our efforts in specific areas that have the greatest technical, processing, environmental or economic challenges; places where customers are highly motivated to find solutions. At this time, we are focused on a few high-priority areas.
One such area is composites. Incorporation of our xGnP® graphene nanoplatelets into various thermoplastic, thermoset and elastomeric polymers have been shown to impart improvements in strength, electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity and/or barrier performance. We pursue several end-use applications that may benefit from one or more properties and believe that composites represent a potentially large opportunity for commercial sales.
For example, Callaway adopted xGnP® in their new Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X golf balls. This new Callaway Golf® ball line incorporates XG Sciences’ high-performance graphene nanoplatelets into the outer core of the Chrome Soft balls, resulting in a new class of product that enables increased control, higher driving speeds and greater distance. We have other customers using our materials commercially in sporting goods equipment ranging from field hockey sticks to water sports equipment.
Automotive is another market segment adopting our materials. Ford Motor Company recently announced adoption of our materials in polyurethane based foam for use in fuel rail covers, pump covers and front engine covers.Incorporation of our high-performance materials results in a 17 percent reduction in noise, a 20 percent improvement in mechanical and a 30 percent improvement in heat endurance properties, compared with that of the foam used without graphene.
We are also getting commercial traction in packing applications with a large U.S.-based water bottling company who is shipping product that incorporates our graphene nanoplatelets into PET. Where use of xGnP® enables light weighting, improved modulus and shelf life as well providing energy savings during processing.
XG was founded back in 2006. Since that time, we have sold products to over 1,000 customers in over 47 countries and many are in various stages of testing our products for numerous applications. For most customers, the process of “designing-in” new materials is relatively complex and involves the use of relatively small amounts of the new material in laboratory and engineering development for an extended period of time. We believe following successful development, customers that incorporate our materials into their products will then order much larger quantities of material to support commercial production.
Although, our customers are under no obligation to report to us on the usage of our materials, some have indicated that they have introduced, or will soon introduce, commercial products that use our materials. Thus, while many of our customers are currently purchasing our materials in kilogram (one or two pound) quantities, some are now ordering at multiple ton quantities and we believe many will require tens of tons or even hundreds of tons of material as they commercialize products that incorporate our materials. We also believe that those customers already in production will increase their order volume as demand increases and others will begin to move into commercial volume production as they gain more experience in working with our materials.
In 2017, our customer shipments increased by over 600% to almost 18 metric tons (MT) of products from the 2.5 MT shipped in 2016. In the three months ending June 30, 2018, we shipped 15.4 MT of product (11.2 MT of graphene nanoplatelets in the form of dry powders and 4.2 MT of slurry, cakes or other integrated products containing graphene nanoplatelets), an increase of 716% over the three months ending June 30, 2017 (1.9 MT mostly in the form of dry powder) and an increase of 5% as compared to the three months ending March 31, 2018 (10.4 MT of dry powder and 4.4 MT of slurry, cakes or other integrated products containing graphene nanoplatelets). This demand profile is further evidence that we are transitioning into higher-volume production. It’s a really exciting time for XG Sciences as we see our customers move into commercial production in multiple applications and end-use markets.
Q:That leads to my next question, which is: are you moving up the value chain? For instance, you said you’ve invested and done a lot of work on energy storage and batteries, which is a very complicated business and physics and science to invest in. Are you looking to move up the value chain there? Creating perhaps a lithium-ion battery based on graphene, or are you still looking at yourselves as suppliers of the material for graphene and for battery producers?
A:It's a great question. We don’t see ourselves making water bottles or golf balls. However, we do make a range of advanced materials we have coined as “integrated products”. These are all products that contain graphene nanoplatelets.
For example, we have a platform of inks and coatings that incorporate proprietary grades of our xGnP® graphene nanoplatelets. These grades are specifically designed for a given application and may not be offered for sale as dry powder – we reserve their use only in an integrated product. We may add binders and surfactants and solvents depending on the final application. We have a concrete additive product available on Amazon that may fall into that category as well. We also make masterbatches of various thermoplastics (PP, HDPE, PET, etc.) where we vary the nature of the graphene nanoplatelet and the concentration to target various end-use applications.
In the next 3-5 years, we target 50% of our revenue coming from bulk materials (powders, slurries, cakes, etc.) and the other 50% from various forms of integrated products.
Q:I would just like to circle back to the iterative process and working with the end users you mentioned earlier, and turn to a question I sent to you previously and that is, what is the greatest challenge for you in working with someone who's new to graphene that you have to explain what it's capabilities are? You outlined that already, but if you could just pinpoint a particular issue that you find that raises itself over and over and over again I think that would be illustrative.
A: There really isn’t any one greatest challenge – there are many small challenges that vary from customer to customer. I think at a fundamental level, in order to be a viable supplier of any advanced material – and certainly graphene nanoplatelets are no different – suppliers must be able to demonstrate three key things: performance, cost and scale.
Until a supplier is able to demonstrate these characteristics, customers may only consider them as an academic curiosity – and that is not meant to cast any aspersions on our academic colleagues. That is to say that a customer will not risk putting a new material into their product unless they are certain that such material will perform, that its price allows for its adoption and that it can be supplied in sufficient volume to meet demand requirements over time.
Of course, there are other relevant requirements such as batch-to-batch consistency, IP, access to capital to enable growth, etc. So, the primary “challenge,” if we couch it in that context, is set by the broader customer base that requires demonstration of viability, capability and credibility as a supplier.We are able to meet, and in many instances exceed, these criteria so our primary task is now one of execution.
We have commercial traction and expect customers to continue to ramp their own production. We have many customers who are approaching commercialization and will add to our revenue growth over the next several quarters. In the meantime, we will continue to grow our organizational capability as well as our capacity to meet rising demand.
We recently announced completion of the first phase of the capacity expansion in our newest 64,000 square foot facility. The expansion has added 90 metric tons of graphene nanoplatelet production capacity, bringing the total capacity of the facility up to approximately 180 metric tons per year. Phase two of the expansion is expected to be complete by year-end and will result in up to 400 metric tons of total graphene nanoplatelet output capacity at the facility. Our total graphene nanoplatelet output capacity across both of our manufacturing facilities currently exceeds 200 metric tons per year and will more than double over the next three months, reaching up to an approximate 450 metric tons by year-end. The expansions support our mission to continue commercializing the use of graphene in customer products across diverse industries.
Q: I noticed in your background you worked at Sigma Aldrich, which is one of the big chemical companies. Did that give you a better understanding of what was ahead for you in order to get your product qualified by these companies? In other words, it appears as though smaller graphene producers are on a different time scale than a big chemical company. A big chemical company doesn't have any rush to do anything until they have the supply chain firmed up the way they want it, whereas, a smaller graphene producer, would like to start moving product as soon as possible. Does that give you any insight? What value did that provide you?
A: I think it absolutely does. I worked for Rohm and Haas prior to Sigma Aldrich and between the two, and now with XG Sciences, I have been in advanced materials for my entire career – which I am reticent to admit is now almost 30 years!
I have been involved in successfully introducing new materials to semiconductor manufacturers like Intel, IBM and TSMC, and to display manufacturers such as LGD, Samsung and AU Optronics as well as in a number of other electronic and industrial applications and markets. The process for new-material adoption is fairly end-market agnostic and the fundamental requirements of a supplier that I previously articulated are still relevant. The timing for adoption may vary from customer to customer and from market to market, but the process is the same.
Having successfully installed new materials with multiple customers and in multiple end-markets is very advantageous in helping to direct XG Sciences’ growth. Of course, it takes a team, and XG Sciences has very capable people in each of the functional areas required for success.
Q: You are a publicly traded company, right?
A: No.We have public reporting requirements by virtue of our self-underwritten public offering and S-1 registration statement, but we are not listed on any exchanges at this time. It is our intent to consider an up-listing event in the next 12 to 18 months.
Q:With your background in advanced materials and while you're looking more at electronics like semi-conductors and flat panel displays, but when you mentioned the barrier for bottles and those containers, I remember some years back maybe 15 years back, people were talking about nano clays so that you could have plastic beer bottles at ball parks. What are the benefits over some of those other nanomaterials for graphene platelets?
A: That's a good question. It really depends on what performance they wish to achieve and then to assess whether that is achievable using a given material.One of the clear advantages of graphene nanoplatelets over other nanomaterials is their ability to impart multi-functional performance. In the example I gave for PET-based water bottles, incorporation of our nanoplatelets improve physical strength, shelf life (barrier) and energy savings (thermal conductivity). A nanoclay, for example, would likely only impact barrier performance – and perhaps not to the extent one could achieve with graphene nanoplatelets.
We don’t typically see our materials competing with other nanomaterials for the same application. Graphene and graphene nanoplatelets are a relatively new material – they open up new performance and design options to engineers.That’s what makes these materials so exciting and why we are focused on building a company around their manufacture and supply. We are beginning to see their adoption at large volumes and in multiple applications, which bring about more curiosity and provide evidence of the power of graphene to a wider audience. I have touched on just a few applications in our discussion so far, but the full breadth of the impact graphene nanoplatelets can have is nearly limitless.
Phoenix, Arizona, October 9, 2018 — FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Urbix Resources, an advanced graphite company based in Mesa, Arizona, has produced the first economically viable graphene-enhanced lightweight concrete, an achievement that represents an industry breakthrough.
Designed in collaboration with one of the world’s largest producers of lightweight concrete, Urbix’s solution delivers material performance improvements, but at a cost that is lower than current lightweight concrete alternatives. A graphene industry first.
Others have tested graphene as an additive in cements and concrete in the past, seeking to improve a variety of concrete’s performance characteristics. Urbix’s research and development team solved the challenge by creating what they call a Graphenesque™ additive that provides a 33 percent increase in compressive strength, a 32 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, and at a cost that is 16.6 percent lower than the next best lightweight concrete alternative on the market.
“It is ultimately the cost of the additive versus benefits of performance that have to be compared with any incumbent technology, especially graphene products,” explains Urbix Chairman Nicolas Cuevas. “That cost versus benefit is the real barrier that’s been keeping graphene out of commercial products until now.”
Urbix is known primarily for its low cost and environmentally friendly flake graphite purification for li-ion batteries, but is quickly establishing itself as one of the premier vertically integrated providers of graphene and Graphenesque™ products.
“The material performance of our solution for lightweight concrete is great,” says Urbix Chief Marketing Officer Adam Small. “But the low costs and large-scale capabilities are what makes this achievement so profound. By leveraging our existing global graphite mining relationships, we offer near vertical integration, an aspect that is almost mandatory for any company entering the graphene space.”
The additive is made in a way that is similar in infrastructure to Urbix’s proprietary purification process, for which a full-scale plant is currently being developed in the Phoenix area. At pilot scale production, it is expected the plant will be capable of producing in excess of 100 metric tons of the concrete additive monthly by the end of 2019. For reference, that amount will be enough material to produce between 10,000 and 40,000 metric tons of the new Urbix-enhanced lightweight concrete. This production figure will be scaled significantly higher beyond 2020.
At present, testing and certification continues. Urbix and their associates anticipate that they will bring the technology to market in 2020.
While the work of Dalton along with a focus on graphene remains part of the company’s genetic makeup, it has established itself first and foremost as a company set up to support scientific research in materials science conducted at British Universities.
Using a unique process, AMD already has a commercially available product it has dubbed “nHance” that includes graphene, molybdenum disulfide and boron nitride in dispersions for use in a range of bespoke emulsions and applications. The patent-pending emulsions have been developed with the University of Sussex.
In addition to having a commercial product in hand, AMD also has secured £750,000 ($985,000) in funding in April to support its commercialization aims and has now commenced R&D funding.
As a corporate partner to the Graphene Council, we got an opportunity to conduct a Q&A with John Lee, the CEO of AMD and below is that interview.
Q: Could you give a little bit more background on the nature of AMD’s business? It seems to at least initially to be a company based on the research of Alan Dalton at the University of Sussex. But it seems that you are also open to any technologies in the area of graphene and 2D materials that might be licensable. Could you explain a bit more about how AMD has set itself up and what its business models and strategies are?
Advanced Material Development Ltd (AMD) is a UK-based, privately funded business recently formed to support scientific research in British universities. The first collaboration, with leading academic Professor Alan Dalton from the University of Sussex Material Physics Group will fund several distinct research streams within the field of 2D materials. AMD is already engaged in a number of key partnerships with other commercial enterprises to further work in areas such as composites, coatings, printed electronics and wearable sensors. In addition, AMD is also producing nano-dispersion inks and emulsions under the brand name “nHance” for its own internal R&D efforts and also for commercial sale.
Q: Some of the work of Alan Dalton that got the most publicity was the simple process he developed for infusing graphene into elastic bands so that they become extremely sensitive strain sensors. Is that a line of research your company is looking to commercialize? If so, what sort of landmarks have you reached in the development of this technology? If not, what went behind the decision not to follow that line of research into commercial applications?
Although AMD supplies materials into this and other ongoing projects, it is not a programme we are funding at this point. IP in this area is already well established, allocated, and outside of our core focus. Our website outlines the areas that we are keen to support.
Q: At the moment, you have likely narrowed down the technologies you are pursuing commercially. Could you say what those technologies currently are and why you chose to pursue those over some others?
One of the main areas of focus for AMD is producing nano-dispersion inks and emulsions. These support our own R&D work and also provide a foundation for bespoke materials formulations being developed for partners. This is a key reason why we choose to keep our R&D efforts within the University - to retain a critical high-end capability. Our other efforts in coatings, flexible electronics, composites and medtech sensors all sit nicely on this platform technology.
Q: In the broader market of graphene, what applications area do you see holding the most commercial potential and what is your company doing to be a part of those applications? If you are not, why have you chosen to not get involved, i.e. already too many competitors, etc.?
There are plenty of key verticals that have obvious areas of application for these materials. The graphene “fatigue” described by some early adopters comes from the frustration associated with a cure-all mentality. The hard to come-by knowledge and critical component that the team is focused on is the ability to disperse these materials into other matrices to provide a worthwhile benefit. We have chosen to support the areas of R&D where the University team can demonstrate a path to commercial interest, notably electronics in the consumer supply chain, material composites and medtech sensors where we consider there to be a realistic pathway to a commercial endgame within two years.
Q: Where do you see AMD in the value chain of graphene, i.e. a manufacturer of devices based on graphene or a company that enables other companies to make devices based on graphene?
The answer really is both. Although AMD cannot claim to be a manufacturer of devices and hence is not fully vertically integrated, it is already a materials manufacturer and is funding research with an end-game goal of prototype applications that we can then market to heavyweight commercial partners, a number of which, we are already doing early development work for or are in discussions to do so.
Q. As a company trying to bring emerging technologies to market, what do you see as the greatest challenges you face, i.e. customers resistant to change, lack of standards in graphene, etc.?
It’s been said that the greatest fear of many start-up companies is the threat of its ideas being stolen. The truth is that taking a product, however good and trying to convince someone already overwhelmed with new ideas and getting them to listen is a huge challenge. But the main problem I see at the moment is that many companies are a little burned by engaging with the graphene dream without having had the right degree of support to see the proper benefits – the lack of standards until now has been a major bugbear in this outcome and so these are vital. However, whatever the standard, no size fits all and the varying material requirements for different applications, like nature, are unlikely to conform to the categories we try to define.
Q. Over the next 5-10 years, how do you see the graphene market developing, i.e. fewer graphene producers and more downstream device producers?
I would agree with this outlook – ultimately graphene and other 2D materials will commoditize as production scales and applications become more accepted, but this will need the development of end-markets to facilitate such growth. I believe the real secret is the integration of the right formulation into devices that solve real world challenges.
Australian advanced materials technology company, Talga Resources Ltd (“Talga” or “the Company”) (ASX:TLG) announced it has signed a Joint Development Agreement (“JDA”) with Biomer Technology Ltd (“Biomer”), a UK based polymer manufacturing and technology company, to co-develop graphene-enhanced thermoplastics for potential commercialisation in the healthcare and coating markets.
This initiative is in the composites sector under Talga’s graphene commercialisation strategy.
Highlights of the JDA include:
Creation of new multifunctional thermoplastic polyurethanes incorporating Talga functionalised graphene (“Talphene®”) in Biomer polymers.
Includes terms for evaluation, five (5) years exclusive supply in the event of commercialisation of products and intellectual property ownership.
Commercialisation of successful products for targeted biomedical and coating applications can be facilitated through Biomer’s existing global-scale commercial clients.
Under the terms of the JDA Biomer will design and synthesise thermoplastic polyurethanes (“TPU”) incorporating Talga’s graphene (“Talphene®”) products for evaluation in biomaterial (medical devices) and industrial coating (marine anti-fouling) amongst other applications.
The incorporation of amounts of Talphene® into Biomer’s proprietary TPU is expected to improve a range of key performance characteristics including:
‣wear & abrasion resistance
The Talphene® enhanced TPU will be evaluated alongside Biomer’s commercially available TPU and other polymers under development with Biomer’s global industrial partners.
Talga Managing Director Mark Thompson: “Talga is excited to enter this agreement with Biomer that provides an accelerated path to new polyurethane products and expanded commercial opportunities. Biomer has an extensive network of advanced polymer materials technologies experts and commercial/customer relationships that can be leveraged to accelerate Talphene® into the world of polyurethane products.
We look forward to working with Biomer through the JDA to incorporate Talphene® into Biomer products with a view to enhancing people’s lives through advanced biomedical healthcare products, reducing eco-impacts of ship coatings in the marine environment and improvements to many other polyurethane based products”.
Biomer Managing Director Simon Dixon: “Biomer are excited to work with Talga on the significant potential for graphene in our proprietary high performance polymers and the opportunities it presents for advancing both design and manufacturing in the biomedical and specialty industrial market sectors.
Understanding the technological capabilities for graphene is fundamental to unlocking the potential for this material. We look forward to working with Talga’s research team in Cambridge and its unique functionalised graphene formulations which, through the JDA, will provide the ideal platform to realise these opportunities.”
Background and Agreement
Graphene is carbon and humans are carbon based. Thus graphene enhanced polymers have the potential to provide reduced implant rejection sensitivity and improve biocompatibility, more durable plastic components for joint and vascular replacements, and utilise graphene’s self- healing properties and electrical conductivity to enhance a host of biomedical applications. Inversely it may be engineered to have biocidal properties, providing a potential pathway to metal-free anti-foul marine coatings.
The market potential is significant with the existing thermoplastic polyurethane market size exceeding 21.7 million tonnes products1 and total market value c.US$57.8 billion2 including, automotive, aerospace, coatings, healthcare products, and many other applications.
Preparation of functionalised formulations for incorporation with Biomer products and testing is planned to commence next month. Talga Technologies Limited (Cambridge, UK) will prepare and supply the Talphene® products and interface with Biomer staff to fulfil work programme outcomes and deliverables.
Under the JDA Talga and Biomer will co-fund R&D, material supply prototype development, manufacturing process development, and internal and external testing. Biomer’s target customers have also agreed to participate in product testing programs. Anticipating successful outcomes the companies have agreed in advance to incorporate commercial terms that include minimum 5 year exclusive supply of Talga graphene on jointly developed products, and terms of intellectual property rights. Other commercial terms including pricing are to be further agreed and specified during product development.
The two teams based at The University of Manchester are seeking breakthroughs by using graphene in the treatment of brain cancer and to radically improve battery performance.
The Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise Award, in association with Nobel Laureate Sir Andre Geim, is awarded each year to help the implementation of commercially-viable business proposals from students, post-doctoral researchers and recent graduates of The University of Manchester based on developing the commercial prospects of graphene and related 2D materials.
The first prize of £50,000 was awarded to Honeycomb Biotechnology and its founders; Christopher Bullock, a Biomedical Engineer in the School of Health Sciences who is due to complete his PhD on developing novel graphene biomaterials this autumn, and Richard Fu, a NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow and Specialty Registrar in Neurosurgery based at the Manchester Centre for Clinical Neurosciences.
The team are seeking to develop a surgically implanted device using graphene electrodes to deliver targeted electrotherapy for the treatment of Glioblastoma Multiforme- a form of brain cancer. They hope that this technology can work in conjunction with other treatment modalities to one day turn fatal adult brain cancer into a manageable chronic condition.
Richard Fu said: “Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) remains a tragic and deadly disease. This award provides us with the opportunity and funding to further develop what is currently an exploratory treatment idea that could one day make a meaningful difference to the lives of patients”.
Christopher Bullock added: “We are very grateful to Eli and Britt Harari for their generosity and for the support of the University, which has enabled us to try and turn our ideas into something that makes a real difference”.
"Our commitment to the support of student entrepreneurship across the University has never been stronger and is a vital part of our approach to the commercialisation of research. The support provided by Eli Harari over the last four years has enabled new and exciting new ventures to be developed. It gives our winners the early-stage funding that is so vital to creating a significant business, while also contributing to health and social benefit. With support from our world-leading graphene research facilities I am sure that they are on the path to success!"
Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor
The runner-up, receiving £20,000, was Advanced Graphene Structures (AGS), founded by Richard Fields, Alex Bento and Edurne Redondo. Richard has a PhD in Materials Science and Edurne has a PhD in Chemistry, they are both currently research associates at the University; Alex is currently working as a freelance aerospace engineer.
Richard Fields said: “Many industries are interested in benefiting from the properties of graphene, but they are hindered by a lack of new processing tools and techniques, ones which could more effectively capture these beneficial properties. We intend to develop new tools and techniques which can constructively implement graphene (alongside other 2D/nanomaterials) into advanced energy storage devices and composite materials”.
The technology aims to radically improve the performance of composite materials and batteries, this will be achieved by providing control over the structure and orientation of 2D/nanomaterials used within them. An added benefit of the solution is rapid deployment; the team have identified a real technological opportunity, which can be readily added to existing manufacturing processes.
Graphene is the world’s first two-dimensional material, one million times thinner than a human hair, flexible, transparent and more conductive that copper.
No other material has the same breadth of superlatives that graphene boasts, making it an ideal material for countless applications.
The quality of the business proposals presented in this year’s finals was exceptionally high and Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester and one of the judges for this year’s competition said: “Our commitment to the support of student entrepreneurship across the University has never been stronger and is a vital part of our approach to the commercialisation of research. The support provided by Eli Harari over the last four years has enabled new and exciting new ventures to be developed. It gives our winners the early-stage funding that is so vital to creating a significant business, while also contributing to health and social benefit. With support from our world-leading graphene research facilities I am sure that they are on the path to success!”
The award is co-funded by the North American Foundation for The University of Manchester through the support of one of the University’s former physics students Dr Eli Harari (founder of global flash-memory giant, SanDisk) and his wife Britt. It recognises the role that high-level, flexible early-stage financial support can play in the successful development of a business targeting the full commercialisation of a product or technology related to research in graphene and 2D materials.
Advanced materials is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons
Haydale, the global advanced materials group, has announced that it has completed the installation and commissioning of a two-roll lab mill at its site in Loughborough, UK.
This new investment will allow Haydale to compound nanomaterials into a range of elastomers which will support customers interested in using nanomaterials in their elastomeric products for a range of property improvements, such as thermal conductivity, electrical conductivity and increased mechanical performance.
The new elastomer mixing capability sits alongside the current elastomer moulding and testing facilities that are already on site at Haydale in Loughborough, UK, thereby bringing in-house the facility for Haydale to serve customer requirements for nanomaterial enhanced elastomer development.
Areas Haydale is currently working on with elastomers are:
Auto, rail and marine for antivibration mounts.
Seals and gaskets.
Keith Broadbent, Haydale Managing Director Composites, said: “We are really pleased to be able to offer this additional capability from our Loughborough site and look forward to working more closely with our existing, and new, elastomer customers.”
Ray Gibbs, Haydale CEO, said: “This market-led improvement to our facility shows how Haydale is responding to the needs of its customers.”
The University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) made an announcement about the recent unveiling of the world’s first graphene skinned plane at the internationally renowned Farnborough air show.
Haydale, (AIM: HAYD), the global advanced materials group, has supplied graphene enhanced prepreg material for Juno, a three-metre wide graphene-enhanced composite skinned aircraft, that was revealed as part of the ‘Futures Day’ at Farnborough Air Show 2018.
The prepreg material, developed by Haydale, has potential value for fuselage and wing surfaces in larger scale aero and space applications especially for the rapidly expanding drone market and, in the longer term, the commercial aerospace sector. By incorporating functionalised nanoparticles into epoxy resins, the electrical conductivity of fibre-reinforced composites has been significantly improved for lightning-strike protection, thereby achieving substantial weight saving and removing some manufacturing complexities.
The Juno project, led by UCLAN, has been an ideal demonstration for the viability of the prepreg material for structural applications and the ability to manufacture components using traditional composite manufacturing methods. Further developments are underway to produce the next iteration of lightning strike protection materials based on these nano-carbon enhanced prepregs.
This technology also has performance benefits for a wide range of applications and industries including large offshore wind turbines, marine, oil and gas, and electronics and control systems.
Haydale worked with the aerospace engineering team at University of Central Lancashire, Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute to develop the unmanned aerial vehicle, that also includes graphene batteries and 3D printed parts.
Ray Gibbs, Haydale CEO, said: “We are delighted to be part of the project team. Juno has highlighted the capability and benefit of using graphene properly dispersed into composite materials to meet key issues faced by the market, such as reducing weight to increase range, defeating lightning strike and protecting aircraft skins against ice build-up.”
David Banks, Haydale Chairman, said: “The unveiling of this plane shows how the use of graphene can offer great benefit to the aerospace industry, highlighting the potential near term commercial impact of graphene within this significant market.”
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.