There has been a lot of negative press of late due to leading figures within the academic graphene space putting out a paper surrounding the inconsistencies of graphene. However, where most media outlets have picked up on the negative connotations of this paper, the fact is that the graphene industry has never looked so good.
We can debate all day about the quality of different graphene samples. But we’re not here to do that. One interesting perspective that arose from this year’s event is how we use these different types of graphene. Instead of trying to categorise different types of graphene individually, the industry now looks at single layer graphene, multi-layer graphene, and the graphene oxide derivatives as “graphenes”—which is a significant advancement from last year where so many people tried to quantify graphene by its number of layers. In fact, some of the higher numbered layer graphenes can now be used in lower-tech products without the price of the product increasing.
Additionally, for many applications where the graphene is to be dispersed or composited, the layer number is not an issue, rather, it is the lateral dimensions of the graphene sheets and how they are functionalised before being implanted into the matrix that are important. So, really, after seeing the different priorities of the graphenes this year, the recent publication does not really have much bearing to the commercial aspects of graphene (unless there are more than 10 layers, then it is in fact technically graphite). There has definitely been a dynamic shift in what graphene is over the last 12 months.
Theis year’s Global Graphene Expo was bigger and better than last, and for the first time ever, the CEOs and leaders from the largest graphene manufacturers in the world were all brought together in one place even though many CEOs steer away from graphene conferences, and it is the first time in many years that they were convinced to attend. A standard of attendees was certainly set this year, but the aim going forward is to now bring end users to the production leaders to help facilitate the movement of graphene and evaluate its use in new markets—it is not an event solely dedicated to those already in graphene space. One key aspect of the conference that is only available at these events is the stakeholder sessions. These are an opportunity for all the key players within the industry to get together round one table and discuss what the real challenges are within the industry (and how they can be solved) and what can be done to further the commercialisation of graphene.
The Global Graphene Expo showcased what the graphene industry is actually doing to realise graphene in everyday products. Last year was kind of a hybrid event between academic advances and some industry talks, whereas this year’s talks had a significant number of talks around products that are already in the market. To get a feel for what is now emerging from a product point of view, there was everything from graphene in shoes, to various textiles applications (a significant amount of clothing plus graphene-polymer fibres), to using graphene-based lubricants in oil and gas pipelines, to using graphene as an absorber material in cleaning up oil spills, and the use of graphene as a thermally regulating heat-dissipation material.
Aside from the products themselves, a significant amount of time was designated to panel discussions with leaders in the field that covered where graphene might impact the medical, semiconductor and oil and gas industries, as well as roundtable discussions which enabled in-depth conversations around topics such as various industry markets and standards. On the topic of standards, there are now standards in place surrounding official ISO terminology for the different graphene derivatives and there is a significant drive to adopt more standards around the world, but standards are something that take time. However, there is a big collaborative effort that is establishing itself amongst those within the industry to help drive the standards forward.
Overall, it has been established that the graphene industry has now come out of the hype that it once had and is in a period of growth. It has been acknowledged that using graphene in high-tech applications will take a while, but many small gains are currently being made in different consumer products that is helping to build market confidence. The differences are already clear from 12 months ago, and the industry has gone from ‘what are we going to do about implementing graphene’ and ‘we need to address standards’, to the point where market implementation is being realised and where there are now plans to go forward with getting graphene standards in place. With the difference between the industry at this year’s event and last year’s event being so apparent, we can only imagine how much further along the graphene industry is going to be in the next 12 months. It’s an exciting time to be involved with graphene, that is a given.
Written by Liam Critchley.