Insights from industry

The Future of Graphene

The Graphene Council is the largest Community for graphene professionals, producers, research application developers and end-users in the world.

In this interview, Terrance Barkan, Executive Director from The Graphene Council talks to AZoNano about their 2019 Bulk Graphene Market Report and what is in store for the future of graphene commercialization.

Please tell us about The Graphene Council and the work you do?

The Graphene Council was founded as early as 2013. Today it's the largest community in the world for graphene researchers, producers, application developers, and end users. We now have more than 20,000 material scientists and graphene professionals in this society worldwide. The main purpose of the Graphene Council is to accelerate the commercial adoption of graphene as a material.

The way we go about doing this is through educating targeted market segments. For example, you have the composites industry, plastics, coatings, rubber, batteries, industrial materials etc.

In addition to the work of educating these end-user communities, we've been working on the development of graphene standards through our formal membership in the ISO/TC 229 Nanotechnology Standards Development Group. We're also in the technical advisory group to the IEC, which is TC 113 Nano-Electrotechnologies.

In addition to all of that, we are also conducting original industry research, surveys, market intelligence reports based on the work that we are doing directly with graphene producers and the academic and professional communities.

The 2019 Bulk Graphene Market Report is regarded as the most comprehensive, up to date, and insightful report on the graphene market. Can you tell us why this report is so valuable to anyone who wants to understand how to commercialize graphene?

The most important reason is that it's been written by people who really understand the graphene market, from the inside out. They're actively involved in transacting graphene sales, so they're brokering material, they're selling material, working directly with producers and directly with end users. They really understand the dynamics involved both on volume and pricing. This report is updated at least twice a year, making it really the most up to date and accurate report that's available out there.

One of the most important aspects of this report is that it not only looks at the size of the market and who the players are, it really goes into the detail of looking at how much value is driven for a particular type of graphene material for a specific application at a defined load factor. For example, in structural concrete, if you were to add graphene at .004% by weight, what would the price of the graphene have to be to justify its inclusion as an enhancing material, as a catalyst, for that?

For producers of graphene, this report gives them an idea of what price points they must hit in order to be competitive in specific markets. For potential buyers of graphene, it's important because it allows them to understand what amount of graphene they actually need to enhance their material and at what cost point.

It does a service to both sides of the market. On the buyer side, many potential purchasers of graphene have this perception that the material is just too expensive to be useful to them. Understanding what load factors they need in order to use this material can show that it can be quite competitive and cost really isn't the prohibitive factor. This kind of detailed information, that level of analysis on these price points, volumes, and load factors is simply not available in any other report.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/EgorovArtem

There are lots of industry-wide reports that do provide insights into the graphene industry. Why should the graphene community take interest in yours? What makes it different?

If you look at some of the other industry reports that are out there, they tend to take what I would say is a formulaic approach. Basically, they cover many different industries, and graphene just happens to be one of the industries that they have included in their portfolio of reports.

The other thing I would point out is that many of these widely referenced reports in industry, they're now several years old. A lot of the reports originate from 2016. Even if they've been republished recently, some of the information has been updated but the vast majority is still out of date.

The other factor that I would say is that a lot of the reports focus on forecasting what they think the graphene market is going to be several years from now. For example, the consensus view of the most widely known industry reports are forecasting graphene sales in 2027 at about $300 million, which isn't a very large market at all for any kind of industrial material.

Yet, we know of just one company within the number of companies that we follow, that alone is expecting sales of $50 million in 2019 based on purchase orders.

We think that a lot of these industry reports that are out there are also grossly underestimating or miscalculating what the true market value for graphene is based on the rapid uptake in commercialization of the material that we see from actually speaking to the producers.

Can you provide any insights on graphene commercialization? How do you become competitive in this growing market?

It's a very noisy market. Today there are about 200 companies that claim to be producing graphene at commercial levels. In addition to that, there are many small lab-scale startups that are hoping to become graphene producers that are waiting in the wings. There's no shortage of companies that want to play in this space. The result has been that we have a significant overcapacity of production at this time. There's a lot more capacity to produce graphene than there is actual demand for it.

If we look at the forecast, and as I mentioned, the report that we put out does this kind of forecasting of how much graphene would be required for a particular application. If just a few of these key markets like plastics, composites, batteries, and cement were to adopt graphene at the amounts that we are forecasting they would take, then the current production volume we have would fall short of what is needed. We'd need many more times the current production volume.

If you look at commercialization, we feel like a graphene company needs some key components to be successful in this market. Firstly, they have to have a solid scientific base and need to understand how to produce and to tune their graphene product.

Secondly, they're going to need the engineering and process skills required to produce at an industrial scale while maintaining quality control and also having in place health and safety processes and practices.

As graphene is a new material and it's not easy to handle or to integrate with other materials, graphene companies really need the ability to educate and work with their customer base to show them how to use this material. Graphene is not the kind of material where you can just sell somebody a bucket of black powder and then send them on their way and say, "Good luck with it."

Where we've seen the greatest commercial success has been the companies who have worked with their customer base to innovate and produce an application in close collaboration with the customer. We think that this is going to continue to be the case in the near term for those companies to separate themselves from just graphene producers.

We see a lot of companies today, they have solid science, they've got smart people behind them, but they don't have the ability to scale to industrial production levels. Many of them are just not investing enough in customer education and developing that customer base. Graphene is not one of these products where you build it and they will come. You need to educate and bring the customers along.

This is the one area I think that the Graphene Council has excelled at in that we have focused on partnering with leading sector organizations like the Society of Plastics Engineers, or the JEC Composites Conference, TechConnect, and many others to help educate these industry cohorts.

The Graphene Council has recently joined the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC) in Manchester. Tell us how this partnership can help end users to develop next generation graphene-enhanced materials and applications?

This is a very exciting development in that the GEIC, or the “geek” as they refer to it, is a £60 million investment, and it's based at the University of Manchester, specifically to help industrial companies that want to develop graphene-enabled applications. They do this by putting in place the machinery and the personnel to do rapid prototyping and testing. The goal here is to reduce the amount of time and investment needed to take a product from a concept to market.

The resources that they have include industrial-scale production equipment, as well as instruments for testing and characterizing graphene materials. This facility allows companies to develop graphene-enhanced solutions for composites, energy solutions (e.g. batteries and supercapacitors), membranes, inks and coatings specifically. In addition, they have production facilities to produce both CVD and bulk graphene products on site.

The Graphene Council is working in partnership with graphene producers, three of our corporate members have permanent staff on site at the GEIC, as well as the highly skilled people at the University of Manchester and the GEIC.

Tell us about the Verified Graphene Producer program that the Graphene Council have recently launched. What impact on the production process will this have?

The Verified Graphene Producer program is very important. We have just launched this internally. What the program involves is a physical, in-person inspection at a graphene producer's facilities. What we do while we're there, we look at the entire production process from raw material intake until the product is shipped to the customer. We look at things like their quality control processes as well as health and safety measures.

While we're there inspecting the facilities, we take a random sample from the production stream and then have this sample material characterized by a first class lab. For example, we're working with the National Physical Laboratory, or the NPL, in the UK. The tests that are performed on the material will include AFM, XPS, SEM, TEM, as well as potentially other tests to verify if the material matches the specifications published by the producer.

This is especially useful for end users. In fact, in recent discussions that I've had with major companies including; a plastics products company, an advanced engineering company, a composites producer, and others, all these end users, these buyers of material, when we shared with them that we had launched this Verified Graphene Producer program, expressed how important and valuable it would be to them having an independent third party validate a particular graphene producer.

If you look at the testing, in order to do a full materials characterization of a graphene sample costs anywhere between $10,000 to $15,000. End users or customers are simply not going to go through that process to test if the material they get from producer ‘A’ or from producer ‘Y’ meets the spec sheet.

Having this third-party validation process in place is hugely valuable, especially because today the graphene market is both confusing, because a lot of the end users don't understand the different types of graphene, and it's very non-transparent.

It's very hard for industrial companies that don't understand the nuances of different graphene materials or which supplier is reputable. The Graphene Verified Producer program is designed to bring a measure of transparency to the market.

ImageCredit:Shutterstock/GiroScience

End users often have difficulty finding qualified graphene companies for their applications. How else can the Graphene Council help them overcome this obstacle?

We have a very successful program, which is like a matchmaking service. This is a way for companies that are looking for a graphene producer to define their requirements using a very simple online form that we provide. We then work with our corporate member companies to match those that have the right type of material and/or expertise for the stated requirement to get in touch with that end user or that customer.

The companies that submit their requirements can also provide their information anonymously. If they wish to express what their needs are, we'll take that information to our corporate members and then our member companies can express if they're interested in meeting that customer's requirements. Then we'll feed that back to the customer who decides if they take it forward. Or they can simply share their information, and we pass that on to our corporate member community.

The confidentiality part of it is very important for some large industrial companies that want to maintain some secrecy around the work they are doing with graphene. That's why we give them the option to remain anonymous if they wish. If anybody is interested in this program, the form is available at http://bit.ly/GrapheneSolution.

Understanding the graphene industry commercialization strategies and approaches can often be a tough and daunting challenge as well. How can the Graphene Council help graphene producers, end users, and application developers?

We find that end users are at the, "What is graphene, and how can I use it?" stage. Graphene producers, oddly enough, a lot of them are not quite sure exactly which markets they'll sell into. There are more than 40 vertical markets that have potential application areas for graphene. It can be confusing from both ends of the spectrum.

What The Graphene Council does is we can help either one of these parties to identify what the right solution is. We can do custom work for graphene producers to help build out target markets and industry segments. We can work with end users that need to understand what type of material is best suited for their application, and then how do they go about finding good sources, or like in the case of the GEIC, how to use a testing and prototyping facility to develop an application that fits their needs.

We leverage our industry insights to help both our member companies and outside customers to be more successful by reducing their commercial risk through this type of education and advisory services.

What is in store for graphene commercialization? What trends can you see on the horizon?

I think when we look forward, the market is going to end up being divided between different types of companies. Those which are purely suppliers of graphene material and that take a high volume, lower price approach; versus the companies that take more of a value-added and a vertical integration approach, to capture not just the value of producing graphene material itself but also the value added by enhancing other materials' performance characteristics.

Ultimately, we expect that there are going to be a very small number of the very high volume, lower price suppliers in the market, several, maybe three, and that the value-added vertical integration approach is really going to support a much larger number of companies, specifically because there are these 40-plus vertical markets that graphene can be applied against.

We also think that if this approach is done right, the value-added integrated approach is going to yield higher results. When I talk about value-added integrated approach, what I'm talking about is a graphene producer that not only produces graphene, but they put it into an intermediary product or a master batch, adding value to that, and that's the product they sell.

As the market matures, we expect many of the companies that exist today are either going to get acquired, or they will fall by the wayside because they're not able to scale or they're not able to develop their customer base enough to be sustainable. We also expect that there are going to be a lot of new companies coming in because graphene is such an exciting field and the barriers to entry continue to fall.

It's going to be very exciting to see what happens. We are watching the birth of a new industry as graphene matures and becomes more commercially viable.

What has the Graphene Council got in store for 2019?

We're going to continue to focus on educating the end user markets and advocating for the greater commercial adoption of graphene on behalf of our member companies. That seems to be the largest obstacle to rapid commercialization and scale, so that's where we're going to focus. Our ultimate goal is to accelerate the pace of adoption of graphene so that its benefits can be applied to the more than 40 vertical markets where graphene makes a significant impact.

Where can our readers go to find out more?

I invite everybody to visit www.thegraphenecouncil.org, or to contact me directly at [email protected].

About Terrance Barkan

As the Executive Director of The Graphene Council, Mr. Barkan works with industry verticals and platforms to identify and connect suppliers and end-users for successful commercial applications.

For more than 30 years, Mr. Barkan has worked on a global basis in trade and professional societies including the science, technology, healthcare, security, IT and engineering sectors. He is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and specializes in developing international growth strategies for organizations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Mychealla Rice

Written by

Mychealla Rice

Mychealla graduated from Northumbria University in Newcastle with a 2:1 in Journalism with English Literature. Mychealla is a keen traveller, spending time in Australia, Thailand and Italy. Mychealla plans to see more of Europe in the future. Mychealla’s interests include photography and music. In her spare time, she likes to go shopping and visit family and friends back in Ireland.

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