Although 3,000 related research papers and over 400 patent applications related to the technology were filed in 2010, mass commercialization of graphene may still be years away due to a number of product and process obstacles.
1) cost of development, which will likely decrease as process innovations reduce variability in production and as throughput rises.
2) technological complication that pertains to the high electrical conductivity of the material. Scientists must identify a way to contain the charge in graphene sheets so that digital signals can be processed properly.
3) Difficulties relating to the health and safety of nanotechnology in general, though graphene retains some safety advantages over its close cousin, carbon nanotubes.
A number of multinationals are active in graphene research and development (e.g. Intel and IBM in computing, Dow Chemicals and BASF as suppliers of basic graphene material, and Samsung in consumer electronics).
In 2010, the total production output of various kinds of graphene is more than 15 tons per year, produced in more than 40,000 square feet of facilities,
and this is set to increase to more than 200 tons per year within the next year
Three small US companies account for the bulk of graphene manufacturing capacity: Angstron Materials; Vorbeck Materials in Jessup, Maryland; and XG Sciences in East Lansing, Michigan. The companies take the same basic manufacturing approach, which is to break apart graphite into the sheets of graphene that make it up — usually by intercalating acids between them. The resulting intermediate is then thermally or mechanically treated to extract graphene platelets (or nanoplatelets).
It has been predicted that graphene nanoplatelets can be produced at $5 per pound. If such costs could be achieved it will provide major disruption in the nanocomposites marketplace.
Graphite is an abundant natural mineral and one of the stiffest materials found in nature (Young’s Modulus of approximately 1060 gigaPascals (gPa)) with excellent electrical and thermal conductivity. It has better mechanical, thermal and electrical properties and lower density compared to clays. The lower cost of crystalline graphite ($1.5 U.S. dollars per pound ($/lb) to $1.6/lb and less than $5/lb for graphite nanoplatelets) compared to other conductive fillers, such as carbon nanotubes (about $100 per gram ($/g)), vapor grown carbon fibers (VGCF, $40/lb to $50/lb) and carbon fibers (about $5/lb to $6/lb), as well as graphite’s superior mechanical properties compared to those of carbon black, makes graphite an attractive alternative for commercial applications that require both physical-mechanical property improvement and electrical conductivity of the final product.
Graphene is an isolated atomic plane of graphite
Graphene platelets can consist of a single layer or multiple layers of graphene, and measure hundreds of nanometres to tens of microns across. The use of acids can lead to oxidation of the graphite, and Vorbeck has licensed an approach developed at Princeton University to convert graphite oxide into graphene. Angstron, meanwhile, has also developed a process that avoids chemical intercalation and oxidation altogether. These approaches have the common advantage of being inexpensive. The low cost results from a relatively simple and low-energy treatment process, and a cheap starting material: graphite is mined and sold at a cost of cents per gram. Jang puts it simply: “The graphene is already there — all you have to do is peel it off.”
China Carbon Inc claims to be a leader in large size of carbon graphite manufacturing which requires the most sophisticated technologies but can delivery as high as 30%+ gross profit margin, such as 750+ mm diameter electrodes, 400 mm+ diameter high purity graphite products as well as 2.75+ meters long fine grain graphite products. Large production capacity–doubling its capacity to 60,000 tons from 30,000 tons.
Worldwide total graphite electrode demand exceeds 1.15 million metric tons annually. Graphite is a commodity material with current annual global production of over 1.1 million tons at $825/ton in 2008.
The market for Graphite industrial uses could reach $900 million by 2010, and new applications are rapidly developing in the electronics ,semiconductor and nuclear industries.
There is an annual 20,000 ton market for high purity graphite in China’s auto industry. The price of high purity graphite is up to $29,000 per ton.
Preparation of high quality graphene materials in a cost effective manner and on the desired scale is essential for many applications. CVD growth on metal foils has exceptional potential for, ultimately, the production of endless lengths of graphene/nlayer graphene of desired widths (‘graphene foil’) that could then be picked up by roll-to-roll processing. Further improvement of the quality along with development of a clean transfer process for such foils will help to realize many applications including graphene-based electronic devices, for thermal management, for transparent conductive electrodes, and others. Fine control of the number of graphene layers for n-layer graphene (with the exception of monolayer graphene) is an important challenge for the materials community, such as for fundamental studies of bi-layer and tri-layer graphene, and to understand the performance (as one example among many targeted applications) as TCF’s. The preparation of graphene materials via ‘chemical’ processing routes (e.g., oxidation of graphite followed by reduction of the graphene oxide platelets obtained by exfoliation) may be able to produce fairly large amounts of ‘graphene’ cost effectively; however, the chemical details (e.g., oxidation/reduction mechanisms and detailed chemical structures) need to be more fully understood. Future efforts for graphene and n-layer graphene such as achieving desired surface functionalization, and, e.g., the ‘cutting’ or preparation into desired shapes, could generate novel structures having many applications.
Country Company Location University Affiliation US First Nano Long Island, NY Vorbeck Jessup, MD Princeton University Cheap Tubes Vermont Nanotek Instruments Dayton, OH Wright State University NanoIntegris Skokie, IL Northwestern University Angstron Materials (a Nanotek spin-off) Dayton, OH Wright State University xgsciences.com Lansing, MI Michigan State University Graphene Labs Reading, MA Columbia University Vulvox Long Island, NY Graphene Works Atlanta, GA Georgia Institute of Technology Xolve (formerly Graphene Solutions) Platteville, WI University of Wisconsin Graphene Energy Austin, TX University of Texas UK Graphene Research Manchester, UK University of Manchester Graphene Industries Manchester, UK University of Manchester Durham Graphene Durham, UK Durham University China Nano-Brother Lab Haerbin, Harbin Institute of Technology Heilongjiang Sinocabon Tech Materials Taiyuan, Shanxi Chinese Academy of Sciences Xiamen Knano Graphene Technology Company Xiamen, Fujian Huaqiao University XP Nano Material Co. Xiamen, Fujian Nano Technology Co. Nanjing, Jiangsu Nanjing University
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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