Quality, not quantity, will determine who wins the race to
harness the potential of graphene science, according to British
consulting firm CambridgeIP, which last week published
its IP Insights Graphene report.
First discovered in 2004 by physicists at the UKs
Manchester University, graphene science has seen a surge of
patents filed since 2007, and the pace of research has
accelerated in the last twelve months.
Asia, particularly South Korea, has seen an explosion
of graphene patents, and the majority of this research has
focused on developing methods for manufacturing graphene,
Quentin Tannock, chairman of CambridgeIP, told
CambridgeIPs league table of graphene research bodies
includes academic institutions, large technology corporations
and a number of small companies who are working to unlock the
value of graphene.
The material is a single layer of carbon atoms with
remarkable strength and conductive properties, originally
produced by peeling off layers from blocks of graphite using
While most of the smaller inventors tended to be based in
the US, Chinese and South Korean research is principally being
conducted by large corporations, Tannock said.
Asian nations are fronting the charge China has 2,204
published patents compared to only 54 in the UK but
Tannock thinks it is a mistake to judge leadership in this area
by sheer volume.
The important thing is to look at the quality of the
research being done, Tannock said, adding that it was
only a matter of time before the industry began to see
clear winners in the graphene field.
Tannock also noted that although there are over 7,000
published patents for graphene, a significant proportion of the
research in this area remains shrouded in secrecy.
Some companies will never publish their patents, and
(...) there are probably many very valuable ideas out there
that havent been disclosed, he said.
Miners muscle-in on graphene
Much of the research that has yielded the existing tranche of
graphene patents has been conducted using mass-produced
synthetic graphite, such as Acheson graphite.
|Researchers at the Chongqing Institute of Green
and Intelligent Technology at the Chinese Academy of
Sciences in west China have succeeded in making their
first 15-inch layer graphene together with a seven-inch
graphene touch screen.
But with several new sources of natural graphite set to
materialise within the next two years, junior mining companies
are striving to position mined material as a viable,
cost-effective alternative to synthetic graphite.
According to Paul Gill, CEO of Canadian graphite junior
Lomiko Metals Inc., the best way for natural graphite producers
to establish meaningful relationships with the graphene
industry is for junior miners to pool funding with graphene
Lomiko recently signed an
agreement with US-based
Graphene Laboratories Inc., a company which manufactures
and sells graphene products, which will involve Lomiko
supplying graphite from the Quatre Milles project in Quebec for
conversion testing over two years.
Gill thinks that the best approach to secure a foothold in
the industry is for graphite producers to put their name on as
many production methods and uses for graphene as possible,
rather than targeting a small number of bespoke purposes.
Applications are so varied from computers with
graphene chips, to supercapacitors for power storage, power
transmission and water filtration, to coatings and paints as
well as aerospace uses, he said.
Quantity is always best because [otherwise, you risk
focusing on] what may be the right product at the wrong time
(...) You never know when a product is going to catch on, or
for what reasons, he continued.
Gary Economo, CEO of prospective mining firm Focus Graphite
Inc. and fledgling graphene company Grafoid Inc., which has so
far identified over 50 potential graphene projects, agreed that
having a broad footprint in graphene science is important, but
said that the key to the materials universal acceptance
If graphene were to be adopted by an automobile
manufacturer as a lightweight substitute for steel and
aluminium, the cost of those graphene-infused components must
be competitively priced with traditional metals, Economo
Focus intends to supply Grafoid with natural flake graphite
mined from the companys Lac Knife deposit in Quebec,
Canada, an arrangement Focus believes will position the two
companies as leaders in the graphene industry.
The main feature of leadership in the graphene space
(...) is developing the know-how and capacity to assist
graphite producers by testing their materials, Economo
We see 2013 as a breakout year, Economo added,
predicting the first raft of graphene-based consumer products
will emerge on the market within months.
The graphene industry
Much of the emphasis in graphene research to date has been
on producing low volumes of high quality material for use in
applications such as touch-screens and bio-sensors, according
to CambridgeIPs chairman.
He added that although production methods form the bulk of
patents, there is plenty of existing knowledge to support
downstream applications for the material thanks to a decade of
research into carbon nanotube technology.
Tannock said that the recently-announced 1bn
($1.35bn*) of funding awarded to European graphene projects by
the European Unions flagship Future Emerging Technology
(FET) initiative was a positive step for the industry, but that
more money will eventually be needed to sustain the
Ideally, this funding will come from industry,
Tannock said. Hopefully, the FET scheme will act as a
spring-board to securing this buy-in, he added.
*Calculated February 2013