Who is making graphene, and where – Examining a secretive market
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.
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This left a total number of 76 companies around the world. The following charts show the numbers of organisations producing graphene.
The current state of the art for making graphene is made by one of two routes: the top-down and bottom-up methods.
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:
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:
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.
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>