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.
Last week at the Lux Executive Summit in Boston, we caught up with Mike Knox, CEO of leading graphene nanoplatelet (GNP) developer XG Sciences registration required). XG has enjoyed a slew of partnership announcements as of late – Hanwha Chemical in December 2010, Posco in June 2011, and Cabot (Client registration required) in November 2011 – which will no doubt play a significant role in its expansion and commercialization efforts. Mike said the company is currently moving into a new East Lansing, MI, facility, which he expects to come online by July 1 of this year, increase production capacity to 80 tons per year, and reduce costs to $40-$50 per kilogram. He added that this expansion will not change XG Sciences’ business model or target applications, as the company still aims to sell GNP dry bulk powder, dispersions, and masterbatches into composite and energy storage markets.
With fellow GNP supplier Angstron Materials (Client registration required) already on the books to increase capacity from 25 tons per year to 100-300 tons per year for 2012, XG’s expansion efforts threaten to push the market for GNPs into an oversupply situation, much like its carbon cousin multi-walled nanotubes (MWNTs). (See the report “Carbon Fiber and Beyond: The $26 Billion World of Advanced Composites.” Client registration required). Such a scenario and concomitant cost reduction may benefit industrial users. But leading MWNT suppliers like Bayer MaterialScience (Client registration required) can attest to the fact that oversupply is an anathema for a developer’s ability to become profitable. The reason is because low capacity utilization hinders the ability to recoup capital equipment investment expenses.
Even so, XG’s proficiency in leveraging its portfolio of strategic partners to increase commercial traction will be critical to its long-term success. Interested investors should stay tuned and submit feed questions, as we will soon be reaching out to XG for an updated briefing.
Nature magazine recently hosted top graphene innovators for a conference titled Graphene: The Road to Applications in Cambridge, MA. The goal of the conference was to temporarily leave aside academic discussions on graphene’s electrical properties and explore real-world prospects for graphene-enabled products, and. One significant conclusion reached was that graphene nanoplatelets have consistently shown progress in performance (electrical, mechanical, thermal), functionality, and scalability. The top platelet developers were all in attendance: Angstron Materials*, Vorbeck Materials*, and XG Sciences*; and all outlined future plans during the conference’s panels and speeches.
Bor Jang, CEO of Angstron Materials, said the company is targeting energy storage applications, and promised a high-performance lithium-ion battery additive within one year, plus a graphene-enabled supercapacitor within two years.
Lawrence Drzal, Founder of XG Sciences, outlined several pathways for deploying graphene as a conductive and structural composite additive. The most notable is XG’s work on replacing volumes of sheet-molding compounds (SMCs) in automotive applications. SMCs are typically a mixture of chopped glass fiber, calcium carbonate, and epoxy resin, coated with conductive paint. Most vehicles contain 100 pounds of this mixture. Thus, if graphene can replace the conductive coating while adding mechanical strength, it could be a significant market with a compelling value proposition.
Finally, John Lettow, President of Vorbeck Materials, announced that a high-volume consumer product using his company’s graphene inks would be available in stores during the third quarter of 2011. This product resulted from an ongoing partnership with a leading printing corporation (likely Xerox or a similar level competitor). John said the product will feature electronics based on patterned Vor-ink, Vorbeck’s graphene based conductive ink. We’ll keep tabs on the details as they emerge.
* Client registration required.