Start-Ups Demonstrate Success in Graphene-Enhanced Thermoplastics and Electrical Applications

Graphene, despite being hailed as a wonder material, has been slow to commericalize. Premature graphene scale-up by groups like Ningbo Morsh Technology and Angstron Materials led to an immense glut that has long outweighed demand. Lux emphasized graphene commercialization hurdles since 2012 and stressed that the materials-push, pursue-every-application approach many companies take is more likely to lead to failure than focused strategies. Start-ups in this struggling graphene space have since begun to eke out worthwhile applications, and Lux wanted to evaluate which areas are most promising.

Of the material’s highly-touted capabilities, most of the potential applications utilize its electronic capabilities. Groups are beginning to find early success in this space; for example, Imagine IM’s geosynthetic textiles offer improved performance and can translate to millions in savings, and both Vorbeck and BGT Materials have begun to commercialize printed electronics with graphene.

Graphene-enhanced thermoplastics have also begun to demonstrate commercial traction. Notably, NanoXplore’s compounding, molding, and forming of graphene-enhanced plastics increased the company’s top-line revenue from $800,000 in 2016 to $3.4 million in 2017. Bike tires developed by Directa Plus and Vittoria have also shown commercial viability since 2014.

In addition, Lux discovered a divide between groups with successful and unsuccessful applications, regardless of function or property. The difference is that successful start-ups target established applications – using graphene as an enhancing material while maintaining low costs – as opposed to positioning graphene as an enabler for new applications. Ionic Industries’ filtration membrane, for instance, and Directa Plus’s oil spill remediation unit have been unable to make a stake in these new use cases. Companies like Graphene 3D Lab also need to improve its conductive filament for high-voltage, high-current applications before pushing commercialization. Gnanomat, though focusing on a growing energy storage market, is pursuing supercapacitors – a product that struggles to demonstrate value.

While graphene will continue to require years to realize its commercial potential, there are now early successes in graphene-enhanced thermoplastics and select electrical applications. Readers interested in differentiating their technology can consider graphene as a feasible option.

By: Cecilia Gee