August 2012’s Federal Triangle described a new technology that might be used in a thermal-recovery device to allow super-efficient capture of waste heat from furnaces. Several readers commented that the high price of graphene used made the concept impractical and unaffordable. Indeed it was at the time. But times change, and this technology deserves another look today.
Graphene is pure carbon in a layer 1 molecule thick and structured in a lattice that looks like hexagonal “chicken wire,” a crystalline allotrope with two-dimensional properties. It was conceived in the 1890s; first described by Hanns-Peter Boehm in 1962; first manufactured in 2003, and then reproduced at the University of Manchester (U.K.) in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, which won them the Nobel Prize in 2010. Recently, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has fostered development of graphene manufacture, establishing an exclusive license agreement with General Graphene LLC. The firm was introduced in November 2014, and you can call them with questions at 865-384-4235. You can learn more about them by watching this video: http://startupday2014.com/presenters/vig.sherrill.
With a bit of Google expertise you can quickly see that about five dozen companies are working to produce graphene for affordable, real-world uses. Fabrication techniques include mechanical cleavage of carbon from graphite and deposition on another surface, making platelets by cutting carbon nanotubes in a solvent, using sonic exfoliation from graphite substrates or plasma deposition.
These researchers have found that graphene has a density less than helium (0.16 kg/m3) and burns at a very low temperature (662°F). Graphene is the most reactive form of carbon; is strong with intrinsic tensile strength of 130 GPa; has stiffness (Young’s modulus) of 1 TPa (150,000,000 psi); and is brittle and can crack like a ceramic with fracture toughness in the range of 15-50 MPa/m. Its most likely application is as a powder dispersion in a polymer mix or adhesive, elastomer, oil or aqueous solution, and it can be used in composites, paints and coatings, lubricants, oils, capacitors, batteries, inks and as 3D-printer material.
You can see where this is headed. Graphene can make solar collectors 50-100 times more efficient, semiconductors 50-100 times faster, aircraft and automotive bodies 70% lighter, and batteries charge 10 times faster and hold 10 times more energy. It can also make electronic displays “fold.” Remember that carbon fiber was invented in the 1950s but did not really become part of our product world for another 30 to 40 years.
Minimal-impact applications are in their infancy. The graphene global market in 2014 is thought to be between $9-20 million with sales for experimental items concentrated primarily in semiconductor electronics for device thermal management. The material market is expected to grow to $320 million by 2024. Nearly 9,000 U.S. patents have been granted or are pending for this “game-changer” technology, which primarily uses CVD (chemical vapor deposition) to produce 1,000 single-layer sheets totaling the thickness of Saran wrap to make materials that are 1,000 times more efficient than copper in conductivity (thermal and electrical transmission) with physical strength 1,000 times that of steel.
Things are changing. When I asked the ORNL Group Leader for Commercialization about this, Dr. Jennifer Caldwell urged contact, questions and discussions about uses and commercialization of technology with their licensee and its president, Vig Sherrill. Yet another source is Graphenea Inc. (www.graphenea.com), which is headquartered in Spain but has a U.S. office in Cambridge, Mass.
The market will be split across many application sectors, each attracting a different type of graphene manufactured using different methods. The market today remains dominated by research interest, but the composition will change as other sectors grow. The value chain will also transform as companies move to offer intermediary products, capturing more value and cutting the time to market and uncertainty for end users.
This is presented to inform readers and urge industry management to investigate and be prepared for this new material, which will have a significant impact on many industries. With knowledge and imagination, graphene can change our society’s future and improve your company’s prosperity.