There are many different ways in which a graphene supplier can find its way into the marketplace. They might start off as research contractors in the field and discover a process for producing graphene that they believe has a competitive edge.
Another route is to start off in the mining of graphite—the material from which graphene is synthesized—and look into new avenues for exploiting their product.
One company that has followed this path is Australia-based Talga Resources, which mines its high quality graphite deposits in Northern Sweden and processes that ore into graphene that should be suitable for a wide range of potential applications.
Talga recently joined the growing list of The Graphene Council’s corporate partners at which time we took the opportunity to speak to Talga’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Thompson, to ask him more about the direction of the company and their perspective on the issues facing the growing graphene marketplace.
Q: Do you consider Talga Resources a mining company or an advanced materials company? Why one and not the other?
We see ourselves as an advanced materials company. This is because the majority of our output is functionalized and formulated graphene additive products produced in-house, and utilizes our own 100% owned technology in the product not just raw products.
Has this perception changed over time? Yes, the separation occurred first as we started developing our own processing technology in 2014 and moved to product development in 2016. Mining is now just one of our competitive advantages in owning our complete supply chain. We also have a range of valuable non-carbon mineral assets that can be developed such as cobalt and copper that are also part of the technology metals and clean-tech supply chain.
Q: What kind of graphene are you producing, i.e. how is manufactured and what applications is best suited for?
We electrochemically exfoliate our graphite ore directly into pristine graphene nanoplatelets and a few layers graphene, not graphene oxide. We do in-house functionalization then to create dispersion and product performance, such as conductivity or adhesion. But it is a tunable process so we can produce a range of graphene particle morphologies.
We are using these morphologies successfully in a variety of coatings, batteries, composites and concrete products. Obviously these are large volume current markets where our economics and scale can provide the material solution, as compared to CVD type applications.
Q: Are you functionalizing the graphene in any way?
Yes, we do in-house chemical functionalization.
Q: How far up the value chain to ultimately expect to be moving in the graphene market, i.e. do you foresee you producing actual devices from graphene or will you continue to supply others with graphene to make products?
We can supply raw or basic value-added products directly, but tend away from retailing and towards formulated solutions and product systems, that can be master batches or incorporated into a current product process line.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge in the graphene market at large and how does that translate into challenges for your business?
Time. The biggest challenge is accelerating the testing of products with large companies to convince the rest of industry to make the change to incorporate a new material. Down the road will be process controls for quality and consistency, and the perennial problem of lack of investor and business knowledge of how graphene really works in an application.
Q: You are an Australian-based company with mining operations in Sweden. Are you producing the graphene in Europe or Australia?
All graphene is produced in Europe, with bulk raw materials made at our test process facility in Rudolstadt, Germany and the UK subsidiary based in Cambridge responsible for product development.
Q: What sort of advantages does having operations on two continents provide you and what are the challenges?
The advantage of having our downstream and upstream processes separated is that they can be more flexible and faster to develop. The challenge is that they are spread out but they will be consolidated more once the first commercial plant is built in Sweden.
Q: What sort of efforts are needed for the graphene market as a whole to improve uptake by the various application markets that are impacted by it, i.e. standardization, dissemination of information, industry advocacy?
I believe graphene producers should do less raw supply and more value-added or advanced prototype products. With current market relevance and pricing it will improve uptake faster than regulation, standards and info. Proof of performance at scales bigger than the lab will lead faster to commercial outcomes than providing raw materials to end users without skills to incorporate it.
Q: How do you see the graphene business evolving over the next five years and what do you aim at making Talga Resources role in that business?
The graphene business will undergo a great deal of failures and M & A activity while commercialization grows in the background with a few key companies. Most will migrate from raw material and basic dispersions to more formulated value-added additives targeting specific products in collaboration with industry. This will be on current market products, not futuristic aspirational products. Talga is already ahead on this path and aims to be a very profitable and global leader in graphene enabled products well within 5 years.