Analysts warn that we have barely begun the graphene journey
Graphene uses begin to multiply but analyst warns commercialization process will be a challenging one
Graphene is moving fast from a promising new wonder material to being harnessed in a growing number of applications. Just in recent days, as reported on Investor Intel, India has developed a graphene-based sensor to detect a dangerous food toxin that is said to cause cancer; the South Koreans believe they will begin to commercialize graphene in a number of applications by 2017; there is news of a graphene light bulb and graphene’s use in mobile communications.
Add to those the news that a graphene-based phone will soon be mass-produced, the graphene allowing the touchscreen to transmit more light and offer a better array of colours. We are indebted to Warwick Grigor, who runs Far East Capital out of Sydney, Australia, for the news that Graphenano, a Spanish company, is working with Tokyo Electric Co to use graphene to clean up contaminated water around the Fukushima site. The company says graphene is 60 times more efficient than any other material for the purpose, and it expects over the coming years to use tonnes of graphene in this process. As Grigor adds, while nuclear cleanup has not been suggested before as a use of graphene, its employment makes sense: graphene membrane is the ultimate filter material. “On water alone, there is a $400 billion a year industry that offers great opportunities”.
I should pause here to talk about Grigor and his interest in graphene. Warwick is one of the most experienced Australian analysts of mining stocks, and of the smaller, emerging companies especially. For his clients, he charts more than 130 juniors on a daily basis, dropping those that disappoint and constantly adding newcomers with more promising stories. He has also been chairman of several mining juniors, including one that is now emerging as a successful uranium story.
But he has attracted particular attention for his new interest in graphene, and the material is rarely absent these days from his weekly client notes. He has also made the financial pages in Australia for taking a substantial investment in one graphite player, Talga Resources (ASX:TLG), which has an unusual ore body in Sweden and which last month announced it would build a graphene plant in Germany to process the graphite its plans to mine.
Grigor has embarked on what seems almost a crusade to convince investors that graphene is the place for them to be, including issuing an extremely thorough research report into the whole evolution of graphene.
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“In the same way that salt, pepper and spices greatly enhance a culinary experience, graphene will dramatically improve the qualities of the materials to which it is added,” he explains to clients. “History tells us that there were fortunes made out of the spice trade, so why can’t there be fortunes made out of graphene?”
Graphene may, at first, seem very expensive but cost is not really an impediment. He explains that one gram of graphene, being one atom thick, can cover an area of 2,600 square feet. If graphene makes up 1% of a material to which it is being added, cost is little given the level of enhancement.
But it is not going to all clear sailing.
His report argues that whatever price you are being quoted today, it will not be the price at which commercial quantities will be made available for applications in the future. The issue is complicated by the fact any new producer will be constrained by the lack of depth of demand in the early stages of commercialization of graphene-enhanced products.
Grigor makes it plain that, in his view, it is going to take some time for us to see how the graphene market will be shaped. This will depend on there being a number of commercial suppliers that result in a competitive market; there will also need to be a credible authentication and standards regime that makes possible comparison of specifications and quality of graphene projects.
“In the absence of these parameters we are likely to see a fragmented and secretive market, as it is now, where transactions between buyers and sellers will be highly confidential as to pricing and quality,” he argues.
Moreover the industry would be open to disruption from sources of low-cost graphene.
In other words, we are only at the beginning of the graphene journey.
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