In 2004, graphene – the first ever two-dimensional nanomaterial – was isolated and characterized by Geim and Novoselov, which led to them being awarded Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010. Over ten years have passed since then, yet graphene still has not had the real-world impact that was expected following its isolation.
The main questions on everyone’s mind are:
- Graphene has incredible properties, but what is it used for?
- If graphene is so good, why is it not being used extensively in the real-world?
- What has taken so long, and what is next for graphene?
Every innovative material goes through a cycle of hype following which expectations are readjusted, and it eventually reaches a plateau of productivity.
Graphene is close to entering the plateau of productivity; however, the graphene industry is still shadowed by a cloud of confusion and uncertainty.
To this day, majority of the market consider graphene to be one material and associate it almost exclusively with the particulate form – commonly available as graphene oxide, reduced graphene oxide, or graphene nanoplatelets.
After working with graphene for over five years and finding a successful way to mass produce it, General Graphene has learnt certain things about the material, which help simplify what it is and is not.
- Graphene is a spectrum of carbon-based nanomaterials available in a variety of atomic and physical structure configurations – the most common being particulate and films.
- Contrary to popular belief, graphene is not a 'one size fits all' material and to effectively apply graphene across a range of applications, the growth process needs to be adaptable, and several optimization and functionalization steps are necessary depending on the final application.
The key takeaway from this is that graphene’s properties are dependent on a number of different factors – defect density, number of layers, the substrate used, crystal size, and the use of doping agents. As a result, it is crucial to have access to an adaptable process to tailor graphene’s properties for specific end-use applications. However, an adaptable process that is not scalable and cost-effective only helps solve a third of the problem.
Graphene – It Can Do Everything Except Leave the Lab
This statement is all too familiar to those working in the graphene industry. When taking a look at the previous two decades, graphene has found itself in a niche bucket of technologies we tend to hear and read about - they claim to be capable of revolutionary and world-changing things, but they never make it out into the real world.
When graphene was initially discovered, it was immediately labeled as a “wonder material” and the world’s strongest, thinnest, and most conductive material. While these properties exist at the nanoscale, it is extremely difficult to readily scale them up to human sizes. Even at the nanoscale – while still outstanding – graphene’s properties do not live up to the unrealistic hype generated around them during the previous decade. This was mainly due to the emphasis on what graphene was and not what it could do.
Due to this myopic focus, people’s understanding of what graphene was ended up being skewed and flawed, a sentiment still evident in the market today:
- 90% of people aware of graphene think that it is a single material and associate it exclusively with particulate - most commonly available as a black powder.
- Almost everyone in the market thinks of graphene as a ‘one-size fits all’ material with consistent properties that can be equally applied across a diverse range of applications.
The world is still relatively new to the concept of nanomaterials, meaning that almost two decades ago, understanding and applying graphene’s properties was a tough task that had a steep learning curve, made harder by the public’s expectations and interpretation of graphene.
The main answer to this issue was to attempt to boost the credibility of graphene as a material and take the initiative to scale up early research efforts. Such efforts were dependent on the availability of cost-effective graphene in mass volumes at a consistent and reproducible quality. However, mass production proved to be difficult, which meant acquiring data and evidence of graphene being applied in real-world applications was a challenge which no one wanted to take on.
This is especially true for graphene films produced using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) – the process was limited to time-consuming quartz tube furnaces that operated in vacuum conditions and only generated small batch quantities of graphene.
Thus, many wrote off graphene and claimed that because of the mass production conundrum, it would never make it out into the real world. The mass production odds were even lower for graphene films produced using chemical vapor deposition, as even the Nobel Prize winners claimed it could not be achieved.
Lab to Fab
In 2017, General Graphene successfully commissioned GG 1.0 – a proof of concept that unveiled the possibility of manufacturing CVD graphene under atmospheric conditions.
This was an exceptional achievement as the CVD process had previously been limited to vacuum conditions – and it ignited an unprecedented spark towards helping General Graphene achieve its goal of making scalable, adaptable, and cost-effective CVD graphene for a wide range of applications.
In 2019, GG 2.0 – a pilot production line – was commissioned and revealed under the scaled-up conditions that producing CVD graphene under atmospheric conditions was a viable path towards manufacturing CVD graphene at an industrial-scale.
Shortly after GG 2.0. was unveiled, an iterative design known as GG 2.5 was commissioned. However, while this system did not work as hoped, General Graphene was able to learn a few key lessons from it:
- Failing is something that happens on the path toward success.
- Failing is inevitable – what is crucial is the ability to quickly learn from failures and to fail fast and cheaply.
Image Credit: General Graphene Corporation
The lessons learned from GG 2.5 were taken on board and fed into General Graphene’s current industrial-scale CVD graphene manufacturing system – GG 3.0.
Today, GG 3.0 is the only system in the world with the capability of true industrial-scale production of CVD graphene at industry-compatible prices and at consistent and reproducible qualities for a range of applications.
Developing thousands of graphene growth recipes has enabled General Graphene to modify graphene’s properties and optimize it in an appropriate manner for a diverse range of applications. Moreover, General Graphene’s experience in transferring graphene onto different surfaces means that it has grown and transferred graphene onto more surfaces than anyone else in the world.
Building an industrial-scale process that is truly adaptable with a number of quality control and optimization techniques allows General Graphene to manufacture CVD graphene for a wide range of end applications.
General Graphene has been application agnostic since its inception, meaning the focus has been on the industrial-scale production of CVD graphene and functioning as a pure-play graphene foundry. This approach has allowed General Graphene to channel graphene’s broad application potential to meet the needs of customers across various markets by supplying graphene that is customized for specific end applications.
With GG 3.0 commissioned and ready for full-scale commercial operations, the largest obstacle to the commercial roll-out of CVD graphene has now been solved – mass production that is both cost-effective and of reproducible quality.
Image Credit: General Graphene Corporation
Graphene’s roadmap has been astonishing in terms of its extensive application potential and the new markets it can help create and revolutionize. However, it has also been met with skepticism since progress has been slow.
Ultimately, the success of any new material relies heavily on mass production capabilities at prices, volumes, and qualities that meet the needs of end applications. Much like silicon, graphene is an enabling material which has the power to help usher in the arrival of several markets and enhance products and technologies in existing markets as well.
With more than five years of experience in producing and optimizing CVD graphene for various applications and having successfully developed an industrial-scale CVD graphene production system, General Graphene is confident it can become the driving force behind the commercialization of CVD graphene – finally taking it from the lab and into the real world.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by General Graphene Corporation.
For more information on this source, please visit General Graphene Corporation.