Graphene 2017: ‘Cost and confusion’ inhibiting graphene penetration

By Davide Ghilotti
Published: Thursday, 27 April 2017

The lack of standards between product types and processing methods, high costs as well as companies’ own strategies when it comes to reaching potential users, have created confusion in the industry and are slowing down market penetration for graphene.

Costs and industry confusion are some of the main hurdles preventing the adoption of graphene by the wider market and large-scale commercialisation of the material, delegates heard at the Graphene 2017 conference in Barcelona, Spain, in March.

Potential end users of graphene have been bamboozled by the industry’s lack of clarity and standardisation, and its inability to reach out to end markets in a coherent way, according to Marco Monti, head of Consorzio Proplast, an Italian-based consortium of companies active in the field of polymer and composite materials.

"Despite a few cases of usage of graphene as added-value component – think of bike helmets or tennis rackets – something is still missing to see large scale production of plastic components made of graphene nanocomposites," Monti told the audience in Barcelona.

He described the current phase in graphene as "the valley of death" – a period that follows an initial hype in interest for the material, but which does not lead to real market demand.

"The business opportunities are there," he said, citing specifically the field of plastic materials and composites.

The global thermally conductive plastics market had a total worth of $388.5m in 2015, according to data from Proplast, and it is forecast to grow at a 14% CAGR to 2020, mainly on the back of higher demand for these materials as lightweight substitution parts.

Electrically conductive plastics is "even bigger", Monti said. The market generated $2.2bn in 2012 globally and is expected to grow at an annual 6% CAGR rate through 2017.

Still, graphene has not achieved the sufficient market penetration to benefit from these growth trends.

Monti identified costs and processing as some of the main challenges that prevent adoption on a large scale.

On costs, he said: "Plastic formulations need to guarantee the highest performance to cost ratio. Plastic users think 'the cheaper the better’ – costs have to come down to a level closer to what materials producer will consider."

"Cost should be reduced, since the plastics industry is not comfortable in using expensive materials," he added.

The lack of a structured, reliable supply chain does not help either.

Industrial customers want to have a clear understanding of the real capability of graphene producers to ensure stability of supply, consistency and volumes. 

On a communication aspect, marketability of graphene has been slowed down by the widespread lack of clarity around product types, standards and properties. 

Low standardisation among processes and products is another aspect of this issue.

This view was shared by Simone Ligi, of Italian graphene manufacturer GNext, who said: "It’s important to produce graphene that can be used in existing coatings equipment. If [the material] needs tailor-made equipment, it’s going to be a problem."

A delegate from a large international company active in maritime, aerospace and defence, told IM: "There is still some way to go before moving to actual incorporation of the [graphene] material into our product lines."

He added that the regulatory aspect is a main hurdle to overcome.

"This process can take years," the delegate told IM.