Several speakers at the Graphene Live! 2014 conference held
in Berlin, Germany, at the beginning of April, acknowledged the
fact that the nano-carbon material has a long way to go before
it is considered fully commercial
They highlighted that while a lot
has been spent in researching this material, and developments
are coming in thick and fast, graphene is yet to find its
While no breakthrough use has been
pinpointed, graphene has been utilised in a wide range of
end-markets, some of which have seen it used as a replacement
material while others are new technology applications made
possible through graphenes unique characteristics.
Two of the most talked about
applications for graphene at the conference were energy storage
Dr Paolo Bondavali, head of
nanomaterials at Frances Thales Group, explained that
graphene exhibits several characteristics that make it a viable
Such characteristics include very
high rates of charge and discharge, high life cycle
(>100,000), good reversibility, low toxicity of material
used, high cycle efficiency, low internal resistance - making
for a higher power output - and extremely low heating
Several of these properties also
mean graphene is being considered as an alternative raw
material component in lithium-ion
(Li-ion) batteries, which
traditionally use graphite (graphenes precursor material)
in anodes and cathodes.
This was discussed by Dr Rune
Wendelbo, chief technology officer (CTO) of Norways
Wendelbo explained that
carbon is a necessary evil in batteries but added
that graphene could be used as a graphite substitute as a
conductive scaffold in the cathode, as an anode material, as an
additive to other anode materials (such as silicon) or as a
current collector coating.
However, while graphene holds large
potential in this area - especially considering the predicted
increase in demand for Li-ion batteries with the rise of
electric vehicles (EVs) - there are some issues associated with
its use, Wendelbo said.
One of these issues is that, while
graphene is extremely conductive, its inherent structure makes
it more difficult for Li-ions to travel when compared with the
use of carbon black.
For this reason, companies like
Graphene Batteries have been researching graphene morphology,
which helps to improve ionic flow within a cell. Mixing
graphene with carbon black has also helped to improve overall
performance, Wendelbo outlined.
Graphene type and formulation
methods are the keys to successfully utilising the potential of
graphene in batteries and supercapacitors, he said.
Graphene has also found a use in
solar energy applications, as discussed by CrayoNano AS at this
years Graphene Live! event.
The companys founder and CTO,
Dr Helge Weman, told delegates that his team could have a
graphene/nanowire solar cell prototype ready in just six
The hybrid device, which utilises
graphene as a semiconductor substrate in place of other
materials such as indium phosphate, copper or silicon, has been
able to achieve cell efficiencies of around 68% in a laboratory
This is more than double the
efficiency of traditional solar cells (...) We believe this
technology is really scalable, Weman explained.
Our technology will be used
to produce and deliver epi-wafers used in many kinds of
semiconductor applications [in the future], he
Other graphene applications
discussed during the event included printed electronics,
graphene electronics, touch screens and inks. Its use in the
medical industry was touched upon by Grafoid Inc.s
president and CTO, Dr Gordon Chiu.
Grafoid, which launched MesoGraf, a
trademarked graphene intermediate product, in 2013, has been
forming strategic partnerships to ramp up the commercialisation
of the material.
At the beginning of April, Grafoid
announced a new partnership with Altamat that will see the
construction of a graphene-3D printing facility in Canada.
In September last year, the company
formed a joint venture company, Calevia Inc., with ProScan RX
Pharma Inc. to develop new graphene-based nanotechnology for
the precise targeting and thermal eradication of solid cancer
Calevia sets a clear example
to the world [of] how graphene technologies serve
humanity, Grafoid CEO, Gary Economo, said on announcing
the partnership. As a business, the MesoGraf-based
therapy we aim to bring to market leaves us well positioned
with the potential to re-define the treatment for tumorous
cancers, he added.
While graphene exhibits many unique
and valuable properties, its brilliance comes at a cost.
As with any new material, graphene
has not yet benefited from economics of scale, meaning that its
raw cost, the method by which it is produced and its quality
are all interlinked.
According to the University of
Manchester, the best quality of graphene currently available
from its start-up commercial entity costs
£1,000/mm2 ($1,656*). This graphene is
produced individually using a micro-mechanical cleavage
Other options available include
graphene grown through chemical vapour deposition (CVD), which
can be around £10/cm2, but it is
inherently of significantly poorer quality, especially for high
performance electronics applications the University of
Graphene produced via ultrasonic
exfoliation of graphite ore can be obtained from companies for
around the £500/mg mark.
Dr Siva Bohm, principal scientist
at Tata Steel, outlined the cost of graphene when talking about
the development of graphene steel coatings at Graphene Live!
2014, saying that the raw material cost as well as application
costs are a prominent consideration in Tata Steels
research and development in this space.
However, speaking on the
opportunities for graphene in supercapacitors and battery
technology, Jesus de La Fuente, CEO of Spain-based Graphenea,
said the cost of this wonder material could soon be
coming down as economies of scale are achieved.
We can bring down the cost of
graphene with volumes, as the manufacturing costs are
fixed, de La Fuente explained.
Graphene oxide prices are
also declining sharply due to production efficiency and
economies of scale, de La Fuente added.
*Conversion made April 2014
What is graphene?
Graphene is a layer of carbon one-atom thick, which can be
derived from either natural or synthetic graphite, and is said
to be the strongest and thinnest material known to exist.
First discovered in 2004 by
physicists at the University of Manchester, UK, the US National
Science Foundation estimates that the global market for
graphene products will exceed $1 trillion within the next 15
Two of graphenes major
markets involve energy storage - namely, batteries and
Companies like Samsung Electronics
in South Korea have been attempting to speed up the
commercialisation of graphene using a breakthrough synthesis
method. Samsung has managed to create a larger-than-normal area
of graphene, allowing more to be processed than with other
Many governments have also invested
in graphene research, including the UK, EU, US and China, with
figures showing that thousands of patents for products using
the technology have already been filed.
In January 2013, China led the way with 2,204
graphene-related patents, with the US in second place with
Graphene-coated steel could prevent corrosion
partnership with UK research body, the Engineering and Physical
Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Together, the parties will work to
develop innovative applications including graphene-coated
steels and next-generation sensors that can operate in extreme
Tata Steel produces 1.3m tpa
organic coated steel, a product that comes with a 30-year
guarantee, meaning anti-corrosion R&D is a large part of
the companys work.
Other key research areas under the
partnership will include waste recycling processes and the
development of new sensor equipment, whose ability to operate
in very high temperatures or extreme chemical environments
could lead to greater understanding of metallurgical and
chemical properties and processes.
Our customers want us
constantly to develop new and more sophisticated products that
will help them overcome their challenges, now and in the
future. We also need to develop new manufacturing processes to
support product development, Debashish Bhattacharjee,
group director for R&D at Tata Steel, said.
Our partnership with EPSRC will broaden and enhance
our research capabilities, helping to speed up the achievement
of these objectives, he added.