A look towards the future of Graphene with talks at the global graphene expo

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There were many different talks at the Global Graphene Expo this year from leading figures within the graphene space. From Giulio Cesareo’s (Directa Plus) talk on the various graphene products, to James Tour’s (Rice University) talk on the academic advances coming out of his lab, to Ray Gibbs’ (Haydale) talk on graphene in elastomer and conductive ink markets, the Expo had something for everyone. However, here, we’re going to focus on those who dedicated talks on looking towards what graphene could do in the future, as the talks this year show a lot more maturity than similar ideas 12 months ago, and it was clear that there are potential pathways that graphene could take in the future.

James Baker, from the National Graphene Institute (and Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre) in Manchester, UK—now known as Graphene@Manchester—kicked off the talks about the future of graphene by talking about the “tipping point of graphene”—i.e. a critical point where the market starts to take off. The purpose of this talk with respect with graphene’s future is about what happens next. After explaining about the new concept of calling all graphene forms, the “graphenes”, James went on to discuss that the graphene industry (and graphene in general) has now gotten past the initial media hype that it once had, and the next few years are now key. To build an ecosystem for graphene to get over the tipping point, industry is going to have to work with academia, with supply chains, with end user companies and with institutes for developing more physical standards. So, whilst there is still a lot of work to do, James reckons that graphene could hit the tipping point in 12-18 months aided with cross-industry collaboration and further investment in infrastructure, including the ‘Graphene City’ being developed in Manchester. What everyone needs to remember, and this can’t be stated enough, is that graphene is still a new material (14 years since its first isolation) and the commercialization of materials does take time, especially as large periods of time are devoted to validation measurements to ensure that the material is doing what it should be doing—not only in itself, but also in various forms for different applications. James mentioned this, and many within the industry know this, but the fact that graphene is potentially reaching the so-called tipping point is a good sign.

While Kari Hjelt, from the Graphene Flagship, spent a lot of time showcasing the output of the Graphene Flagship’s various projects and partner companies, he did also reflect on where graphene is currently at. Kari did state why it is hard to attract investments to these types of materials, especially in the age of technology and the internet where an investor can return a large amount of money with much lower risk and infrastructure costs by investing in software/a website—graphene is not always an attractive prospect for many who want a short ROI, it is a long game. As for the state of graphene, Kari stated that for most industries it can take up to 30 years to get things moving (based on many big industries that have come before graphene), so graphene is not in a bad place 14 years on. For many manufacturing industries, it can take almost 100 years for the industry to reach the top of a growth innovation curve. On these curves, the computer industry is 28 years old (and still relatively new), and you only need to look at the advancements in computing in the last 14 years to see what could be achieved between now and in 14 years’ time with graphene. As for where the industry is at now, it is still new, and even the whole nanotechnology industry is still new. That’s not a bad thing and it means that there is a lot of potential growth to be had over the next few decades, but it is not something that industry should just sit back on—it will require an active approach from all parties involved.

Henning Doscher, from Fraunhofer ISI, provided an independent evaluation of the roadmaps that they think graphene will take in the future. The team at Fraunhofer looked at various applications where graphene could be used and whether it would actually add value in these applications over existing materials. From their extensive studies, they believe that the battery market could be one of the quickest application areas for graphene to move into in the future. Their findings also predict that there will be many parts to the supply chain between the graphene producer and the end consumer, which will pass on monetary value at each stage. Over the years, their roadmap also predicts that the price of graphene will reduce over time (potentially down the price of other carbon materials) and this could bring about more applications, and a bigger market boom, if the price is right for many end-user industries. Other factors that could help the industry progress will include further standards and toxicology studies, but these are not unknown factors. Overall, the potential markets are thought to be huge, but will depend on how the different factors manifest and interplay over the next few years. It is thought that because the supply currently outstrips demand, that not all the graphene suppliers will stay in business—and those that do will most likely be bringing added value to the end-user products directly. While their findings are the results of extensive studies, Henning did mention that they are always looking to work with as many people as possible to further improve their studies and predictions.

Bernhard Münzing, from The Sixth Element Materials, talked about moving graphene forward in a different way to other people. As a resident expert on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACh), Bernhard presented a short talk on REACh registrations and the emergence of a graphene consortium for REACh. Bernhard discusses about how more people need to get a REACh registration if they are to produce over 1 ton per annum of graphene product in the future. To smooth out the REACh documentation in the future, more companies need to come on board with the consortium, as more data on graphene (in different volumes and applications) from multiple partners will help to realize REACh registrations at various production capacities—something which takes time, but the more people involved, the quicker the process will be. The quicker the registrations, the greater the benefit for the whole industry. While everyone will agree that safety documentation is not the most interesting area to everyone, it is an area that is vitally important to everyone.

Overall, there was quite the discussion about how to move graphene forward from a whole industry perspective (around the world), as well as on an association-based level with talks about setting up an industry task force to help the NGA on matters of commercialization in the U.S. The industry is moving forward, and many are of the thought that the industry is only going to continue going forward in the future now that it is past the “initial hype stage”.

Written by NGA Board Member, Liam Critchley

About the National Graphene Association (NGA)

The National Graphene Association is the main organization and body in the U.S. advocating and promoting the commercialization of graphene. NGA is focused on addressing critical issues such as policy and standards development that will result in effective integration of graphene and graphene based materials globally. NGA brings together current and future graphene stakeholders — entrepreneurs, companies, researchers, developers and suppliers, investors, venture capitalists and government agencies — to drive innovation, and to promote and facilitate the commercialization of graphene products and technologies.

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