Grafoid and Altamat to develop mass market graphene based 3D printable powders
In the past few weeks, Grafoid has announced a series of important deals aiming at bringing graphene to the mass market. Yesterday, Grafoid Inc. announced it has signed an agreement with Altamat Inc. for the construction of an atomization facility to produce MesoGraf™ (Mesograf) graphene-based powders and filaments for 3D printing. It was only last week, meanwhile, that Grafoid announced a deal with one of the largest trading houses in Japan, Mitsui Inc., to identify and evaluate market opportunities for graphene in Japan.
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Grafoid has an expanding and pioneering array of graphene developments backed by ventures and intellectual property rights, bringing graphene ever closer to commercial reality. Grafoid and its parent Focus Graphite have also been involved in advanced applications for lithium iron phosphate (LiFePo) graphene based battery materials in partnership with Hydro-Québec.
The agreement between Grafoid and Altamat gives Grafoid the exclusive global rights to adopt Altamat’s proprietary technology to produce a wide range of powders specifically designed to be used in 3D printing applications. Altamat has acquired a great deal of expertise in advanced material processing, metals and composites alike. Altamat was founded by Dr. Hani Henein, an expert and professor of Materials Engineering at the University of Alberta. Grafoid has a facility at Kingston’s ‘Innovation Park’ technology center in Kingston, Ontario and it will be used to develop graphene based printable powders and filaments material to achieve the best performance at the lowest possible cost and environmental impact. The Mesograf powders will also be designed to be used in conjunction with various additive manufacturing processes in order to address all industrial needs.
Grafoid launched its trademarked Mesograf in May 2013. It is one of the first platforms for the mass industrialization and commercialization of graphene. MesoGraf, therefore, represents the first tool through which to achieve graphene’s potential, bridging the gap between the growing bodies of graphene research with actual commercialization of the material, essentially making the science available to the market. Until now, graphene has been limited to development and study in the laboratory; commercial scale applications have not yet been possible. Grafoid worked closely with the National University of Singapore to develop Mesograf. Mesograf is a vertically integrated business model based on a one-step method of exfoliating natural graphite ore. MesoGraf could become the standard ‘go-to’ graphene material as it offers the scalability that is needed to bring the material’s potential to the market. A scalable graphene material implies that it can be made to address a large increase in users and applications without undue effort. Scalability has been the ‘weak link’ in graphene until now. MesoGraf will be derived using natural flake graphite ore from Focus’ Lac Knife deposit in Quebec in a patented one-step process. Even this process is ‘scalable’ because, it can use any graphite ore with 10% or higher purity.
3D Printing is another revolutionary technology involving “the creation of three-dimensional, solid objects from a digital file, of virtually any shape.” 3D printing requires the use of polymers; however, when these polymers are combined with graphene, they acquire far superior properties in mechanical strength and conductivity. 3D printing is finding an ever longer list of applications; one of the most promising and wide scale is the printing of electronic circuits, sensors or batteries (themselves being enhanced by graphite and graphene). 3D printing made headlines in 2013 but the technology is still quite expensive, so efforts such as those made by 3D Labs to enhance the technology by expanding its range if use in very high-value added applications is very significant. A few years ago 3D printing was a tool with few enthusiasts. Now, the technology has started to make its way into everyday life. 3D printing will play an important role in the future; the question is really how long it will take to make a breakthrough in the mass market. In Italy, one of the largest pasta manufacturers, Barilla, wants to use 3D printing to make pasta noodles. Gartner, a major printer manufacturer, expects a rapid growth of 3D printing. In 2014, market researchers expect that some 98,000 3D printers will be sold with the number rising to 430,000 units by 2016. 3D printing cannot be said to have matured yet, but it is like the personal computer in its early days, which means that it should see a very sharp rise in demand as the technology become more available and cheaper through competition.