Widely regarded as the “wonder material” of the 21st century, many investors are still asking, “What is graphene?” Here’s a brief answer.
Widely regarded as the “wonder material” of the 21st century, graphene’s beginnings are modest. 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.
The material is a crystalline allotrope of carbon, a characteristic it shares with diamonds and graphite. Put simply, all three are made up of carbon atoms that are bonded together in different ways. For instance, graphite consists of carbon atoms bonded together in sheets of a hexagonal lattice, while graphene is made up of a single sheet of graphite.
Of course, simply knowing about graphene’s composition doesn’t explain why so many people are excited about it. To give investors a better idea of the promise it holds — in terms of both applications and profit potential — we’ve put together a brief overview on graphene basics, including production, uses and its future. Together, they are a start to answering the question, “What is graphene?”
What is graphene? Graphene production
As mentioned, graphene has a short history and was first produced in 2004 using the Scotch tape method described above, now also known as the micromechanical cleavage technique. The Graphene Flagship, whose mission is to bring graphene out of the lab and into society, states that advantages to the process are its cheapness and low equipment requirements.
That said, the Scotch tape method cannot be executed at a large scale. As a result, other methods of production have been developed. For instance, graphene can be grown on silicon carbide and other substrates via chemical vapor deposition. In addition to that, graphene flakes can be created when natural graphite is placed in a solution. Direct chemical synthesis can also be used to make “small graphene structures with well-defined geometries,” states the Graphene Flagship.
So far, however, scientists around the world are still working on new ways to mass produce graphene. In January 2017, Kansas State University physicists received a patent for the production of graphene using three elements in three steps. The scientists used materials like a spark plug, oxygen and hydrocarbon gas, a method that is said to aid in the mass production of graphene at a rapid pace.
In April 2018, a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published its own method of mass producing graphene using a roll-to-roll approach, a common method for manufacturing thin foils. The engineers then used chemical vapor deposition by heating foil and exposing it to a combination of carbon and other gases.
In recent years, various companies have also stepped into the space using their own methods for the production of graphene. One example is NanoXplore (TSXV:GRA), which is set to unveil a 10,000 metric ton per year graphene production plant in 2020. This plant is billed as the largest of its kind.
First Graphene (ASX:FGR) uses the electrochemical exfoliation direct method to produce graphene from a graphite plant in Sri Lanka. For its part, Zen Graphene Solutions (TSXV:ZEN,OTC Pink:ZENYF) is looking to use material from its Albany graphite property as a precursor to graphene material.
These are only a few examples of the institutions and companies that are trying to make mass graphene production an affordable reality.
What is graphene? Graphene applications
The professors who first produced graphene eventually went on to earn a Nobel Prize for their work with the material, and a quick glance at the things graphene is capable of makes it easy to see why.
As The Guardian explains, graphene’s impressive list of characteristics includes being a better electricity conductor than copper, impermeable to gases, 200 times stronger than steel — but six times lighter — and “almost perfectly transparent, since it only absorbs 2 percent of light.” Further, “chemical components can be added to its surface to alter its properties.”
Explaining how those properties can work, the University of Manchester states that graphene is making inroads in many industries, such as transport, medicine, electronics, energy, defense and desalination.
A specific example of how graphene may be used in the future came out of the battery space in 2015 — researchers have discovered that the material may be able to double the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries, which have risen to the fore since Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) opened its lithium-ion battery gigafactory.
On a smaller scale, Samsung (KRX:005930) has been working on a graphene battery since 2017 to power its phones. It was speculated that the company’s flagship phone in 2019, the Galaxy S10, would have a graphene battery, but ultimately that did not happen.
Another area of potential graphene applications is in transparent conductive films. According to R&D Magazine, those elements are used in optoelectronic applications that need voltage/current and optical input/out, found in OLED lighting, pholtovoltaics and touch screens.
Graphene use has also been explored in several other places. For example, Directa Plus (LSE:DCTA) is working on graphene-based textiles, and in 2018 launched world’s first graphene-enhanced jeans and jackets while also signing an agreement with Arvind to develop graphene products for sale in India.
Meanwhile, First Graphene has been testing its PureGraph product as a nanofluid coolant, saying that the product represents a 60 percent improvement in thermal conductivity when compared to traditional form of cooling. First Graphene has also tested its product in the mining industry, where it can extend the wear-life of equipment.
What is graphene? Future outlook
Looking ahead in the graphene space, IDTechEx Research projects that the industry will reach production of 3,800 tonnes annually by 2027, worth over $300 million.
That said, the research firm expects the industry will remain in a “state of over-capacity” until at least 2021. Industries like energy storage and composites will make up most of the graphene market, IDTechEx Research points out, comprising 25 percent and 40 percent of the sector by 2027, respectively.
Research outlet Markets and Markets says the global graphene market should reach roughly $279 million by 2020, with a growth rate of 42.8 percent between 2015 and 2020. Pushing that growth, the firm suggests, is the Asia-Pacific region, which is expected to have in the world’s fastest growth rate.
Markets and Markets states that the area’s growth will be mostly attached to its high economic growth rate, manufacturing industries, low labor costs and growing graphene-based application patents.
Similarly, Research and Markets says that the graphene market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40 percent between 2018 and 2026. The firm says that the rising demand for printed electronics will be one of the driving forces for the sector.
For its part, Grand View Research believes that the market size of graphene will be US$552.3 million by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 38 percent. The firm says that revenue for electronic applications of graphene will be a major contributor with a CAGR of 38.4 percent between 2017 and 2025.
This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2015.
Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Technology for real-time news updates!
Securities Disclosure: I, Jocelyn Aspa, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.