In this interview, Zoe Peterkin of AZoNano speaks to Warwick Grigor from First Graphene Ltd. about their unique graphene products and how the graphene market may change and develop in the future.
Please tell us a bit about First Graphene and your role in the company.
First Graphene is a world-leading producer of high-quality bulk graphene, at a low cost. We are an advanced materials company, and we convert ultra-high grade graphite into great quality graphene. By doing so, we solve three of the largest problems with graphene commercialization: reliable quality, realistic pricing and sufficient volumes.
Our competitive advantages allows us to access new technologies in the application areas of modern materials, energy storage devices, coatings and polymers.
My role in the company is as a non-executive chairman and I'm also one of the largest shareholders. I’ve been responsible for all the fundraising up until now. I am in charge of the corporate side of the work, so that the executive leadership, who do the real serious stuff, can get on with the job. I communicate with the shareholders and try to keep them happy by giving them a good understanding of the business.
What is PureGRAPH™ and how does it help your customers?
PureGRAPH™ is a graphene product range that we released a couple of weeks ago, following six months of very intensive test-work and characterization. Some of their characteristics include: a large platelet size, low defect levels and a high aspect ratio.
One of the biggest issues for anyone looking to use graphene in their processes or products, is getting reliable and consistent quality. We’re now confident that the platelet size parameters for the PureGRAPH™ range are 5µm, 10µm, and 20µm, and are repeatable on a continuous basis. Therefore, our customers can rely on this product for its quality and consistency.
A lot of manufacturers of graphene can't offer that sort of guarantee, because they have a batch-driven process. But we continually ensure this consistency through our quality control testing. We think that's an important step in standardizing quality to ensure confidence.
What makes your graphene products unique in the marketplace?
We use a top-down approach called electrochemical exfoliation. It's a methodology that's been known in chemistry circles for a long time, but it's only recently been used to turn graphite into graphene.
We start by using the highest grade of graphite possible, approximately 97% pure out of the ground. This is significant because the nearest competitive grade that I'm aware of is 25%.
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There are deposits in Sweden which use a similar process, however, 75% of their material is waste - ours is only 3% waste. Therefore, they require much more complex processing to remove that waste. It also requires larger capital costs because you're dealing with larger volumes of material.
The reaction that we use is more effective because of the purity of our grade. This has two big advantages. Firstly, it reduces the capital cost, and secondly, our operating cost is also significantly lower than anyone else trying to do the same thing.
The top-down method on the whole is more effective for bulk production. If the client requires tonnes of material to put into items like concrete, polymers and paints, it's much more cost-effective. The areas in which you can use bulk graphenes hasn't advanced as rapidly as graphene from CVD or plasma technologies. It wasn't until earlier on this year that we arrived on the scene with the ability to produce it. Until then, potential customers didn’t know where they could get supply, even if they had an application for it.
I think that the uses for graphene potentially so diverse that we might only be covering a few percentiles of the entire field to date. Research will provide more opportunities for graphene than just the most simplistic ones we're discussing now, especially with the quality graphene products that we are able to produce.
How do you see the graphene market changing and developing in the future?
As we learn more about it, we can find new layers of innovative applications. But currently, it's been hard to know where all of this new innovation fits within the spectrum. We know that graphene has potentially, a fantastic number of uses. However, you've got to learn to crawl before you can walk.
We want to focus on volume applications like fire retardant and coatings, more scientifically simple areas. Once we prove that it is financially viable, then we can try other areas.
Graphene oxide is a newer area of the graphene market ,however graphene oxide materials are still very expensive and quite challenging to manufacture. You can do wonderful things with graphene oxide, but people forget to tell you the caveats. This is an area which could be a massive opportunity for us, if our work developing new routes to graphene oxide prove effective.
I think that we're going to wake up one day and the penny's going to drop that graphene can be used for so many things. So far, no one has made money out of it yet, but it will happen.
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Why do you think organizations like the NGA and events like the Global Graphene Expo are important?
This is a good conference because it is specifically for graphenes and so it's not just part of a wider conference of technology. People that attend this event are more focused.
Personally, I've probably learnt a lot more during my time at this conference than other more generic ones, because of the depth of knowledge being displayed. I think it's great and we'll all go away from here with new ideas and thought processes that we can build upon.
We're all brothers in arms because we all have a passion and a belief in graphene. The key is to have it more widely adopted into every-day life.
About Warwick Grigor
Warwick Grigor completed degrees in law and economics at the Australian National University before being recruited by Hamersley Iron’s graduate management program. He then commenced an extended career as a mining analyst in the securities and investment banking sectors. Most recently he was a foundation shareholder and executive chairman of Canaccord Genuity Australia, but he retired from that position in 2014, to pursue a new growth curve in graphene. He has been the largest funder of graphene businesses in Australia and is regarded as the most knowledgeable analyst on graphenes in Australia.
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