In this "Insights from Industry" interview, Dr Elena Polyakova from
Graphene Laboratories talks to Will Soutter about the challenges of
manufacturing graphene on a large scale, and the opportunities
for commercial applications of graphene.
WS: Please could you give us a brief introduction to Graphene
Supermarket and the products you supply?
EP: Graphene Supermarket is an online retail store owned and
operated by Graphene Laboratories, Inc. At Graphene Labs, we have the
ability to do custom projects and R&D, working with materials sold
on the Graphene Supermarket to best meet our customersï¿½ needs. We
supply researchers with a full range of graphene products, including
graphene on dielectric substrates, 3D graphene foams, CVD graphene,
graphene nanopowders, graphene oxide, and graphene TEM grids.
Though the Graphene Supermarket is the most visible division of
Graphene Laboratories, the company also does research and development
work on novel graphene applications..
WS: Graphene is often hailed as a "wonder-material". Do you
agree? What properties do you see as making it particularly special?
EP: Yes, graphene has some remarkable properties which make it very
exciting for use in new and emerging technologies. Graphene is
remarkable not because of one property in particular, but because it is
highly conductive, flexible, transparent, thin, and has a high
mechanical strength, all at the same time. It also keeps its properties
at the nano-level, which is unique. However, itï¿½s important to note
that there have yet to be revolutionary advancements in commercial
devices with graphene. If and when scientists succeed in integrating
graphene in modern devices, it will truly be a wonder-material.
WS: Many of the applications of graphene are still in the early
development stages. What everyday consumer products using graphene do
you think we will see first?
TEM image of graphene grown on a nickel substrate using Chemical Vapour
Image credit: William Glover and Katelyn Murtagh, ZS Genetics.
EP: I believe the first application of graphene in consumer products
will simply be composite materials for high-end products such as racing
bicycles, as a replacement for other carbon materials such as carbon
fiber. There is a good chance that the first high-tech application of
graphene will be as a replacement for indium tin-oxide in consumer
electronics, namely cellular phone touch-screens. The difficulty is
bringing the scale of quality production up to par with industry
standards while bringing down costs; when that hurdle is passed,
graphene will become a true competitor with other materials.
WS: Did you encounter any big challenges bringing graphene into
commercial production? How did you overcome them?
EP: There is only one suitable process for commercial production of
graphene at this time: Chemical Vapour Deposition. The problem with CVD
production is that the cost needs to be brought down, and it only grows
graphene on metal catalysts such as copper or nickel. In order for
graphene to be of any use in research or commercial applications, it
must be transferred to a substrate such as glass, PET, or
silicon/silicon dioxide. When the metal catalyst is etched away, it is
done so with chemicals which can damage the quality of graphene.
The biggest challenge is definitely making sure we maintain our
reputation for selling quality materials even though the process can be
difficult. We do this by having highly trained staff knowledgeable in
best-practices of graphene transfer.
Figure 2. Top: SEM image of 3D graphene foam. Bottom:
Graphene foam from Graphene Supermarket.
WS: What sort of customers do you supply graphene to? What sort
of applications are they focused on?
EP: We supply graphene to customers ranging from universities,
research laboratories, private companies, and government agencies. The
applications range from research of grapheneï¿½s properties to study for
commercial projects. It can be difficult to know exactly what our
customers are working on, as its often classified research in the
organization; itï¿½s our job to supply researchers with high-quality
materials and provide support where we can, but most of our customers
work is done outside of our facilities. However I can say that aside
from research into grapheneï¿½s properties, we have customers studying
its applications in photovoltaics, transistors, energy storage, and
WS: What makes your graphene products unique compared to other
EP: We have an exceptionally strong R&D team, comprised of
scientists holding Ph.D.ï¿½s in related fields. Our competitive advantage
lies more there than in the products themselves. We are always happy to
help customers with projects and to provide solutions to their
problems, which isnï¿½t something most graphene retailers can offer or do
as well as Graphene Laboratories.
WS: Which graphene products do you find are the most popular with
customers? Why do you think that is?
EP: All of our products find customers for various different
applications. We have found that 3D graphene foams are particularly
popular, largely because of their potential applications in energy
storage. Graphene foams have a high surface area and porosity, making
them ideal for energy-related applications. We also sell a lot of
graphene on dielectric substrates, which are ideal for photovoltaic
applications and graphene transistors.
WS: In addition to graphene foams, many of your newest products
are single-layer graphene films on dielectric substrates. What new
applications do these products open
up for your customers?
EP: We have actually been retailing single-layer graphene on
dielectric substrates for a while, but are always adding new products
to that line. There are many different types of projects that can be
done with single layer graphene on dielectric substrates. These
include: photovoltaic applications, graphene transistors, and using
graphene as a replacement for indium tin oxide. These are the
applications which are particularly exciting to people, and generate a
lot of hype. I think that is why graphene on dielectric substrates do
particularly well in sales.