While the spelling and grammar feature on Microsoft Word underlines the graphene in red, because it fails to recognize it, there is no denying that this term describes one of the materials destined to have a huge impact on technology in the next few years. Nevertheless, for all the research and applications, few of graphene’s myriad applications will ever see the dawn unless a method, or methods, is developed to definitively produce graphene in large commercial scale.
The list of applications for graphene, literally, has been growing on a daily basis since it was discovered at the University of Manchester by two Russian scientists, who have won the Nobel Prize for their effort. Mobile phones that can be bent in different shapes (even a wristwatch), medical tools that can detect illnesses before they reach critical states, making batteries more powerful, lighter and resistant thus stimulating the commercialization of electric vehicles, faster computers, more efficient desalination, thinner video screens, and so on. In the past two years there has been a veritable rush to secure patents in order to profit from the new wonder material. Graphene’s potential is such that human imagination struggles to keep up with the reality. However, a pattern is emerging whereby Europe continues to innovate graphene at the ‘academic’ level. European universities and research institutes are suffering from limited development funds and are best at supplying the ‘theory’ or the concept behind the innovation. In the United States, however, university technology and science faculties are far better connected to private enterprise and graphene innovations have a better chance of reaching commercial potential. Meanwhile, Asia, and South Korea in particular, has taken the research concept a step further wherein private enterprise itself conducts the pure scientific research and the commercial development of innovative technologies.
Samsung’s graphene research, the subject of a previous article on GraphiteBlog (http://www.graphiteblog.com/2012/06/graphene-an-east-vs-west-battle.html) offers the best example of this trend. Indeed, the mass production of graphene remains a rather distant goal, yet true graphene ‘supremacy’ as Europe, Asia and North America compete amongst each, can best be achieved by mastering a viable commercial method to guarantee reliable and regular supplies to the end users. Several methods of producing graphene have been proposed and are currently being used to produce graphene powder. However, the available supplies are still reserved for experimental purposes; there is not enough supply to meet commercial demand. Some companies have recognized the enormous opportunity of developing mass production techniques for graphene. One of the most recent and advanced players is the UK based ‘Durham Graphene Science (DGS). DGS, which is a spin-off from Durham University, has secured initial seed financing from the IP Group and the ‘North East Technology Fund’ to develop commercially available mass produced graphene. DGS have a proprietary process to synthesize graphene from graphite and it plans to secure agreements with end users (‘downstream’ applications) for processing. In the absence of integrated research and industrial facilities such as those belonging to Samsung, DSG represents one of best opportunities for graphene production technology and commercialization to advance in the West. Small capital companies such as DSG, rising out of academic institutions, can act as the necessary bridge between pure research and practical development of the material such as to stimulate interest from investors and growth.
A similar approach is occurring in the United States where CVD Equipment Corp. (Nasdaq: CVV),has joined with Columbia University's Graphene Labs Inc., to produce graphene products and sell them through internet based marketing at its www.graphene-supermarket.com website. Not only is the Company growing its customer base, it also offers a rare opportunity for investors to get involved in an actual graphene stock. Grafoid Inc. in Canada also offers such an opportunity. Grafoid is a “graphene research, development and investment company” working in direct partnership with Focus Metals Inc. which operates the a high purity large flake graphite deposit in Lac Knife, Quebec. In a sense Grafoid, through ‘Focus Metals’ offers an opportunity to invest in a vertically integrated downstream graphite/graphene company, able to control the graphene process from the mining of the graphite to the final graphene powder and related polymers. As fascinating graphene applications are, the real excitement, at least in the early phase, is in the development of mass production of this new wonder material