At this point it’s too soon to be sure, but the question is definitely on investors’ minds.

What's the Deal with Alabama Graphite's 'Natural Graphene'?

The graphite space is known for unusual discoveries, and Wednesday brought one that’s particularly unique: Alabama Graphite (TSXV:ALP) has found “naturally occurring flake graphene” at its Alabama-based Coosa property. 

The news is raising eyebrows — and Alabama Graphite’s share price — in large part because no other company has ever claimed to have found natural graphene. Indeed, graphene is known for its origins in the lab. The 2D material was first produced in 2004, when two professors at the University of Manchester used Scotch tape to peel flakes of graphene off a chunk of graphite.

Other methods of producing graphene do exist, and not all of them require natural graphite; just as synthetic graphite exists, so too does synthetic graphene. However, researchers have struggled to produce the material in a way that is both scalable and economically viable.

It’s thus understandable that those in the space have been left reeling by Alabama Graphite’s announcement. The following Tweet perhaps sums up the excitement many are likely feeling:

That said, some may also be wondering if the news is the real deal. After all, graphene is a known buzzword, and it wouldn’t be the first time a company has invoked it to incite a share price rise.

Looking at the company’s press release, it’s tough to answer that question. It shows a picture of a “moderately-sized [<5 μm] single crystal flake of graphene” from Coosa, and notes that it “is observed with a clearly visible carbon atom arrangement at high resolution.” It also states, “[t]hese flakes demonstrated very high quality Raman spectral features,” and explains that bi-layer and multi-layer graphene were observed in samples analyzed.

That’s not a lot to go on, but CEO Ron S. Roda is definitely optimistic. “We believe that the discovery of naturally occurring single and multi-layer graphene, on the Coosa Property opens a completely new and unique business dimension for the Company,” he said Thursday, adding, “[t]he biggest challenge today for commercial viability of graphene is cost. This presents a very exciting opportunity for our Company.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Nitin Chopra of the University of Alabama, who obtained the graphene from Coosa using an “innovative and cost effective process” as part of a sponsored research program, said, “emerging technologies using graphene could greatly benefit from a cost effective processing methodology, with the potential for improved economics and increased production levels relative to any of the current methods used to create synthetic graphene. The work done on the Company’s material has the potential to enhance the process of producing scalable, nano-manufactured graphene and graphene-based derivatives.”

As yet there’s been little commentary on what the news may mean for the industry, though Investor Intel’s Peter Clausi speculates that “[i]f AG is right, the world may have its cheap source of graphene, and the scientists from around the world will flock to ‘bama to get a sample. Applied practical research and the roll-out of new products will follow. Existing companies that sell products based on old technology will have to adapt or die.”

No doubt more commentary will follow, perhaps accompanied by further explanation from Alabama Graphite itself. For now, the company has only said that it continues to “jointly develop methodologies to isolate graphene and graphene-based applications” with Dr. Chopra.

(Update: Chris Berry of House Mountain Partners and the Disruptive Discoveries Journal published an article Friday that looks at what exactly Alabama Graphite’s press release means. In his opinion it’s “not the graphene find that is really significant (we don’t yet know how prevalent it is in the deposit) — it’s the process used.” In other words, the methodology used to get it out of the ground is the key consideration.) 

At close of day Thursday, Alabama Graphite’s share price was up 31.58 percent, at $0.25. The company’s share price has seen a 47.06-percent rise since the beginning of 2015. Requests for comment from the company had not been returned at time of publication.

 

Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article. 

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