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Graphene in Consumer Goods: Revolution or Evolution, Asks IDTechEx

Since its isolation in 2004, graphene has received widespread attention as a "wonder" material, with the reported potential to enable a whole host of next-generation technologies, some of which would not be out of place in the latest sci-fi blockbuster. Many of these applications are still far off, requiring significant research and development to move from the lab to high-volume production. However, some success is now being achieved for graphene as an additive in specific applications for consumer goods. The question remains whether or not these graphene-enabled products are iterations of incumbent products or disruptive game changers.

Examples of graphene-enhanced consumer goods. Image Credit: IDTechEx.

IDTechEx has covered the graphene market for over ten years, independently assessing the technological and commercial progress of graphene and other 2D materials. A new report, "Graphene Market & 2D Materials Assessment 2024-2034: Technologies, Markets, Players", has been released, which includes granular 10-year graphene market forecasts, is based on profiles of 80+ key players, and leverages extensive in-depth coverage of many end-use markets for graphene.

Despite the onset of commercial success for graphene, it must be noted that the material supply chain is still in its relative infancy. Capacity is beginning to scale alongside growing demand, but the market remains fragmented. The emergence of one or more killer applications for graphene will inevitably see consolidation of the market, leading to a lower price point and reduced margins. Until this commoditization occurs, challenging commercial barriers will remain for graphene to enter certain high-volume, low-value (HVLV) markets. An example of an HVLV market is cement – a low-cost product that will not tolerate a high-cost additive. Until this commoditization occurs, it can be expected that graphene will see initial success limited to high-value items that will accept a premium price for performance gain, with many example products existing in the consumer space.

Short-term success will be seen in application areas that will tolerate a premium price for even a marginal performance gain. Unsurprisingly, there are a large number of sports & leisure goods that have adopted graphene. This is mainly for marketing purposes, and the industry also has a larger margin for premium materials (that can then be passed on to the consumer) alongside a lower barrier to entry with no regulatory issues to overcome. Examples include rackets, helmets, bike frames, golf balls, fishing rods, skis, and running shoes. A primary reason for inclusion in sporting goods is lightweighting; Norse Kayaks (Norway) launched a graphene-enhanced sea kayak in collaboration with Haydale (UK) in 2023 with a reported 30% weight reduction while increasing strength and stiffness.

Consumer electronics is another market that is seeing some uptake for graphene. The most notable of these application areas is for thermal interface materials (TIMs). There is increasing demand for high-performance heat spreaders, and graphene's properties and morphology are well suited, with increasing adoption as ever-improving smartphone performance is demanded by consumers. Many companies, including Huawei, Realme, Xiaomi, and ZTE, are incorporating graphene into their heat spreaders. The dominance of Chinese players can be noted in this space, and this is mirrored in the supply chain of graphene materials, with Sixth Element acting as the global leader in the supply of graphene oxide. Other consumer electronics enhanced by the inclusion of graphene include headphones and computer monitors, while an active area of research is fast-charging lithium-ion batteries.

The case of healthcare applications is interesting in terms of the possible impact on everyday life for the average consumer. Graphene sensors have been explored for medical diagnostics, with Graphneal developing a rapid, single-use, point-of-care diagnostic initially for the COVID-19 market but with opportunities for tropical diseases. With some antibacterial properties, graphene is being incorporated into masks, air filters, and activewear. Caution must be taken to not buy into the hype surrounding the shrinking COVID market, while it also noted that some regulatory issues must be overcome for inclusion in medical devices.

Success for graphene will inevitably lead to commoditization of the material, opening opportunities in a wide range of applications. Until then, short-term success will be limited to higher-value applications, where a more expensive additive can be tolerated. Graphene-enhanced products are infiltrating the market for consumer goods in areas such as sporting equipment and electronics. To date, products have been iterative with respect to incumbent approaches, but the future applications that could be enabled by graphene could be game changers for the average consumer.


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