Traditional chemical vapor deposition (CVD) graphene production – seen primarily in the form of quartz tube furnaces – has been inadequate to support meaningful CVD graphene R&D – and has thereby been a roadblock in CVD graphene’s progress toward commercialization. The limitations of such systems include batch scale volumes, batch-to-batch quality variances, high operating costs, and significant energy requirements.
The limitations previously described are the primary driver behind why CVD quartz tubes are largely limited to research settings where small batch volumes are sufficient to meet requirements. However, looking ahead at scaling potential, CVD quartz tubes are hamstrung by their need to operate under vacuum conditions – which plays a crucial role behind their batch volume limitations, plus their high operating and energy costs. Because of these limitations, CVD graphene production has been difficult and expensive to scale – prompting several companies to shift their focus away from the development of scalable CVD graphene production platforms.
Being aware of these conditions, General Graphene set itself on a different path altogether with the goal of achieving scalable industrial-scale CVD graphene production. Unlike traditional CVD quartz tube furnaces that operate under a vacuum, we designed our CVD graphene production system to operate under atmospheric conditions – thereby helping reduce the cost and time taken to synthesize CVD graphene. GG 3.0, the third iteration of our proprietary CVD graphene production system, is a pilot production line that allows for continuous roll-to-roll synthesis of CVD graphene films – which helps further reduce cost and overall process time. Additionally, under steady-state conditions, GG 3.0 is energy efficient – with the primary requirements being small amounts of water, electricity, and gaseous precursors.
Traditional CVD Graphene Transfer
CVD graphene transfer is a crucial step in any CVD method used to produce single-layer or multilayer graphene. Following graphene synthesis on a growth catalyst substrate, these thin graphene sheets must be removed from the substrate and applied to some other compatible material. Typical transfer methods for CVD graphene include wet and dry transfer. However, as with traditional CVD processes, CVD graphene transfer methods suffer largely from the same limitations and can also be chemically intensive. CVD graphene transfer can also create induced tears on the graphene surface – which directly impacts CVD graphene quality and its usability in applications. There have been several attempts to develop large-area roll-to-roll transfer systems, but these have been limited to square-centimeter quantities of CVD graphene and have been both labor and chemical-intensive.
Automated CVD graphene transfer has always been a crucial part of General Graphene’s focus. Earlier this year, we commissioned a Roll-to-Roll transfer system that enables the seamless transfer of graphene films from copper foil – the growth catalyst substrate – to various polymeric substrates. Unlike traditional CVD graphene transfer technologies, our proprietary Roll-to-Roll transfer system allows for large-area graphene transfer by the square meter with minimal induced defects and a low chemical footprint.
Scaling CVD Graphene R&D
“Graphene is dead; long live graphene” – is a sentiment that has been echoed widely across the scientific community.
Since graphene’s discovery in 2004, over 2 million research papers have covered the broad applications of graphene – with close to half a million being focused solely on CVD graphene. The research on CVD graphene has been widespread across several application areas – sensors, clean energy, advanced cellular therapeutics, and wearable, flexible electronics, to name a few. As we have stated earlier, new technologies always go through a development stage as they are conceptualized and brought to market. The lack of scalable and cost-effective CVD graphene production sources has meant that market adoption of CVD graphene has been limited, and CVD graphene R&D has not advanced at the pace that was once expected.
Graphene has had significant promise around it ever since its discovery but unfortunately, the promise and hype around it has meant that the market has taken an “advertise first, make later” approach. Grandiose claims were made and left unfulfilled because of the challenges associated with manufacturing CVD graphene at prices, quantities, and qualities where its impact could be realized in the real world.
Meaningful R&D is a prerequisite for the success of any new technology and is necessary to help improve overall understanding, optimize product quality, assess usage viability, and build long-term credibility. When executed correctly, R&D can enable the discovery of new opportunities or uses for technology that can help accelerate market adoption.
General Graphene strives to make CVD graphene R&D meaningful and accelerate its industrial adoption. Our industrial-scale CVD graphene manufacturing capabilities enable us to provide researchers and companies worldwide with a route to harness the unique nanoscale characteristics of CVD graphene materials and develop novel graphene products economically at scale.