The graphene market offers numerous opportunities for investors… if you know the right place to look. To gain some insight into the market, the Investing News Network sat down with Dr. Khasha Ghaffarzadeh. Ghaffarzadeh, who holds a PhD from the University College London and a MPhil from the University of Cambridge, is a globally respected graphene expert and Research Director at IDTechEx. Most recently, he authored the report “Graphene, 2D Materials and Carbon Nanotubes: Markets, Technologies and Opportunities 2016-2026.”
And so, without further ado, here’s what Ghaffarzadeh has to say about the graphene market. Read on to hear his breakdown of the market basics and stay tuned for next week’s article, where Ghaffarzadeh looks ahead to the future to outline the market’s top investing trends.
What is graphene?
Attractive to both resource and technology investors, there remains some confusion about what exactly graphene is. Ghaffarzadeh explains that “graphene, in its ideal form, is a two dimensional layer of carbons.” Ideal graphene is a “super material:” incredibly thin with a large surface area, the material is the “strongest material ever measured” and also one of the stiffest. Moreover, “it has the highest intrinsic mobility, record thermal conductivity, highest current density, and so on.” Given this diverse set of properties, the material has wide applicability – from “sensors to batteries to composites and so on.”
In a practical sense, “graphene produced in commercial volumes for commercial applications exhibits different properties to ideal graphene found in the lab.” For instance, it has a few layers, can sometimes contain oxygen, includes structural defects, etc. Depending on the production process, the so-called graphene exhibits different properties that “sit somewhere between the limiting cases of graphene, graphene oxide, graphite and graphite oxide.” This is why experts in the industry have often argued that “not all graphene materials are equal.”
Key areas of growth
For many years, there was a divergence in the graphene market. The material had “theoretical potential for use in many applications and companies wanted to explore all avenues.” Ghaffarzadeh explains that “these companies were often small and, to some extent, living off the hype.” However, the divergence meant that they faced an “opportunity overdose risk,” where they chased too many leads without properly allocating and focusing their limited resources.
The market has now changed. “The market is converging with a few application areas emerging as the most promising.” These include energy storage, coatings/inks and composites. All of these areas are large on their own right, and it’s “not yet clear which graphene type is the winner, as the end users have to evaluate many different types of graphene to find the optimal one.” Indeed, in many of these applications graphene platelets are just another form of carbon. And, as Ghaffarzadeh helpful explains, “carbon is a gymnast of material that comes in a variety of forms and shapes.”
But what is most important to note is that, to date, graphene lacks that “killer application.” It is still a substitute material, which “often stands in for other forms of carbon additive,s such as graphite or CNTs or different forms of black carbon.” Therefore, it’s a difficult market for new companies to enter, as they are perpetually under cost pressure since their value proposition comes from being a little bit better or a little bit cheaper.
However, this shouldn’t scare away investors. Stay tuned for next week, when Ghaffarzadeh outlines the top trends in the market, this year’s hottest areas for growth, and his best advice first-time investors in the graphene market.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Morag McGreevey, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.