EDITOR: | September 11th, 2015 | 9 Comments

Who is making graphene, and where – Examining a secretive market

| September 11, 2015 | 9 Comments
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The graphene market is an emerging one, forecasts of the market size for 2015 are of the order of $24m with many more billions into the future. Forecasters sprinkle their analysis with cautions about investing in the market balanced against the rewards for those that hold their nerve.

So, who is actually making the stuff, and where? Conduct a web search and it seems that graphene is everywhere. A Google search returns 10.7 million hits.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find several websites and publications that list graphene manufacturers. However, compare these lists and you’ll find they are all slightly different.

Time to do more detailed research ourselves…

We identified the top 6 most reliable sources of information and combined these looking for organizations that were actively producing graphene.

This combined data led us to a shortlist of likely candidate manufacturers around the world. Examining each organisation, weeding out those that had already failed or did not provide credible information to support their claims, further refined this list.

This left a total number of 76 companies around the world. The following charts show the numbers of organisations producing graphene.

Graphene 1

The current state of the art for making graphene is made by one of two routes: the top-down and bottom-up methods.

Graphene 2

Over two thirds of organisations produce ‘top down’ graphene, made from the exfoliation of graphite by various patented methods to produce nano-platelets. The remaining third manufactures graphene by the bottom up method, growing graphene as a layer on a substrate of copper or silicon dioxide / carbide, again with patent protected processes.

Combining this data produces a picture of who is making graphene by what method and where:

Graphene 3

So what does this all mean?

Looking at the total figures, the USA seems to be in the lead in terms of the numbers of companies producing graphene. However China and Europe are very much closer to the USA when looking at the numbers of companies producing graphene by CVD.  This is important because the CVD method is the most promising route for making continuous sheets of the material that will fully realise graphene’s potential in the future.  It is a race that is too close to call at the moment.

Why the caution of the market forecasters?

Graphene is a rather secretive global industry. It started with the universities, specifically the University of Manchester in the UK, and spread round the world. These academic institutions still act as the crucible for innovation and many of the commercial organisations making graphene started as trading arm spin offs from the university sector.

Each organisation attracts capital investment with a combination of marketing messages highlighting the appeal of graphene the wonder material, and a patent portfolio that protects the intellectual property.

Founders of these public and private companies have raised significant amounts of start up capital.  Investors with a more short-term outlook are starting to ask questions about when the promise of the technology will be realised. This is one source of caution.

Let’s take a look at the dynamics of this market.

Combine the technology adoption curve with the product lifecycle and a pattern emerges:

Graphene 4

From this perspective and we can see that the graphene market is still in the early stages of growth, somewhere around the understanding and trial use phase.

The next stage is critical. This is where the competency predator emerges.

Has the competency predator emerged in this market?

A competency predator is a competitor that innovates a new process and offers large economies of scale. This causes many of the existing competitors to exit the market in a sudden shakeout. So how could we recognise a competency predator in the graphene manufacturing market?

By now you’ll have realised why we have done so much research work for this particular column. It was to answer these critical questions.

The ideal competitor would be able to produce graphene in a form that solves a set of critical market needs. The marketing hype so far has articulated a need for sheets of graphene that can be used to make incredibly strong and lightweight products with amazing electrical and thermal properties.

The competency predator would therefore need to produce large sheets of graphene on a continuous process. This would involve making the sheet on a substrate of some kind then separating the graphene layer without damaging it.

Our research has not revealed any organisation that is capable of doing this yet. Or, if someone has achieved this feat they are keeping unnaturally quiet about it.

Therefore we can conclude that the graphene market has more manufacturing development effort needed before the leader of the pack emerges. This is a very close and long-term race where the investors that reap the ultimate rewards will be the ones with the most patience and deepest pockets.


Editor:

Adrian Nixon began his career as a scientist and is a Chartered Chemist and Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry. As a scientist and ... <Read more about Adrian Nixon>


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Comments

  • Asher Berube

    Of the potential applications for graphene, the thin displays could possibly be a huge market demand. Just thinking about the billboard industry and giving them paperthin electronic advertising screens and how that could give rise to an immense demand for graphene.

    September 11, 2015 - 4:34 PM

  • Lok Chong

    Great piece of analysis Adrian. Perhaps someone should also start piecing together to deep the key combination of players in the graphite/graphene supply chain that involved so many set of key participants including miners, research institutions with patents and continuing R&D, industry scale graphene users, investment middlemen/venture capitalist, and graphene embedded end-product to market specialists etc.

    September 12, 2015 - 4:59 AM

  • Adrian Nixon

    Hi Asher, You are perfectly correct that thin displays could possibly be a huge demand for graphene. Interestingly this was discussed at Graphene week at the University of Manchester back in June this year. 2 Billion smartphones are made each year. This demand could be met with just 65kg of graphene. So the demand will be intense but it will be for the highest quality graphene.

    September 12, 2015 - 5:21 AM

  • Adrian Nixon

    Thank you very much for your kind words Lok Chong. Piecing together the picture of collaboration in this market would be quite a challenge as it is a fluid and ever changing set of relationships. The pieces of this puzzle probably won’t settle for some time yet. That said, I am currently looking at the patent landscape of graphene applications around the world and will produce a further column on this in the near future.

    September 12, 2015 - 5:28 AM

  • Lok Chong

    Thanks Adrian, a patent landscape of industrial application will be absolutely useful indeed, albeit the best patents do not necessarily revert best market outcomes. Your comment on relationships and a lot of luck come into the fluid equation.

    September 12, 2015 - 6:15 AM

  • iab2500

    Adrian, did you get a sense of the GO market?

    September 12, 2015 - 7:37 AM

  • Adrian Nixon

    Hi iab2500, By GO, for clarity, I’ll assume you mean graphene oxide, correct me if I’ve misunderstood.

    Yes I did look at organisations making GO. There are 25 instances of GO manufacture. All seem to be oxidising graphene nano platelets in powder or paste form or starting with GO and reducing it to get graphene by various top down processes No-one seems to be making GO in sheet form from a bottom up process, mainly because it is hard enough to make graphene itself by this method at the moment.

    September 12, 2015 - 7:52 AM

  • iab2500

    What about some of the other applications?

    September 12, 2015 - 8:08 AM

  • Rajnish Sharma

    Dear Adrian Nixon, thank you for the article. I am Rajnish Sharma from United Nanotech Innovation, India. We are the only bulk graphene manufacturer in India, producing Graphene at a very low cost in tonnes. I feel your article is quite correct, and provides much better perspective about Graphene than numerous other articles I have read till date.Compared to other articles by research organizations, your article sounds better realistic,more positive and globally balanced.
    Anyways, in your quest to look for a competency predator, I can say that UNIPL, Bangalore, is the one that’s about to hit the jackpot. 2016 would see UNIPL make graphene an affordable “commodity” in both prize and scale. We have many customers who are willing to use large amounts of graphene provided its available in very very low prize which no one is world makes currently. We are in the right direction that’s alI can say. I also appreciate and respect the high quality commercialization work done by our various graphene companies in China , US and Europe. Hats off to them. I would ensure that I update you first before releasing the big news it to the media. Looking forward to read more from you. regards Rajnish Sharma

    November 7, 2015 - 7:25 AM

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