General Graphene explores the intricate steps involved in transitioning graphene from laboratory research to practical applications in the real world.

Despite being discovered in 2004 and earning Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010, graphene has yet to find widespread use in the real world, leaving many people wondering about its potential applications. This article explores the incredible properties of graphene and why it has yet to be fully realized. By examining the current barriers to commercialization and exploring potential future applications, readers can gain insights into the exciting possibilities of this revolutionary two-dimensional nanomaterial.

As with any new material or innovation, the development of graphene has followed a familiar cycle of hype and disappointment, with expectations now shifting to a more productive plateau. However, despite being on the brink of this transition, the graphene industry remains stuck in confusion and uncertainty. This article examines the current state of the graphene industry and explores the key factors preventing it from reaching its full potential. Through understanding these challenges, readers can gain a better appreciation of the opportunities and limitations of this exciting new material.

Graphene – Is It One Material?

Currently, the majority of the market views graphene as a single material and primarily associates it with its particulate (powder) form, such as graphene oxide (GO), reduced graphene oxide (rGO), or graphene nanoplatelets (GNPs).

Through seven years of working with graphene, we have achieved a breakthrough in mass production and gained valuable insights into the material’s properties. These insights have helped us to better understand what graphene is capable of and what its limitations are.

Graphene comprises a range of carbon-based nanomaterials that exist in different atomic and physical configurations. The most widely recognized forms are particulates and films.

Graphene cannot be universally applied and requires a tailored growth process and various optimization and functionalization steps depending on the intended application. This customization is necessary to make graphene suitable for a wide range of applications.

The key lesson to be learned is that the properties of graphene are influenced by multiple factors, including the number of layers, defect density, substrate, crystal size, and use of doping agents. Therefore, having a flexible process is crucial to adjust the properties of graphene for particular end uses. However, a flexible process that is not scalable and cost-effective only partially addresses the challenge.

Graphene – It Can Do Everything Except Leave the Lab

This sentiment is a common one among those in the graphene industry. Despite the claims of revolutionary and world-changing breakthroughs, graphene, like many other promising technologies, has remained largely confined to the laboratory and has not yet made a significant impact in the real world. This trend has continued for the past two decades.

Upon its discovery, graphene was widely touted as the “wonder material,” possessing remarkable strength, conductivity, and thinness. However, these properties are only evident at the nanoscale and are not easily scalable to human dimensions. Furthermore, even at the nanoscale, while still impressive, graphene’s properties do not fully match the inflated level of hype prevalent during the past decade.

The emphasis was on graphene’s properties rather than its potential applications, resulting in a skewed and misguided understanding of the material. This is still evident in the market today, with around 90% of those familiar with graphene associating it exclusively with particulate in the form of a black powder. Moreover, many assume graphene to be a uniform material that can be applied consistently across various applications. However, this view fails to acknowledge the need for tailored growth and functionalization processes to realize graphene’s potential in diverse fields.

At the time of graphene’s discovery, nanomaterials were not yet well-understood, making it challenging to grasp and leverage graphene’s properties. The public’s expectations and interpretation of graphene further complicated matters, contributing to a steep learning curve.

To overcome these challenges, it was necessary to establish graphene’s credibility as a material and scale up initial research efforts. This depended on the availability of cost-effective graphene in large quantities and with consistent, reproducible quality.

Regrettably, mass production of graphene proved challenging, hindering the acquisition of data and evidence regarding its real-world applications. This was especially true for graphene films produced via chemical vapor deposition (CVD). The process was limited to quartz tube furnaces operating under vacuum conditions and yielding only small batch quantities of graphene, resulting in a time-consuming process.

Numerous skeptics dismissed graphene, asserting that it would never see real-world application due to the mass production problem. This issue was especially daunting for graphene films produced via chemical vapor deposition, with even Nobel Prize winners claiming that large-scale production was impossible.

Lab to the Fab: Scaling Up Graphene Production

In 2017, General Graphene achieved a groundbreaking milestone by successfully commissioning GG 1.0, a proof of concept demonstrating the ability to produce CVD graphene under atmospheric conditions. This was an unprecedented achievement, as the CVD process had previously been limited to vacuum conditions. It ignited a spark toward General Graphene’s goal of making scalable, adaptable, and cost-effective CVD graphene for various end applications.

In 2018, General Graphene commissioned GG 2.0, a pilot production line, which demonstrated that making CVD graphene under atmospheric conditions was a viable path toward achieving scalable mass production of CVD graphene. This achievement was crucial in proving that their approach was not only feasible but also commercially viable for producing large quantities of CVD graphene.

GG 2.5, an iterative design that followed GG 2.0, did not function as intended. However, General Graphene used this setback as an opportunity to learn valuable lessons, such as the fact that failure can lead to alternative paths toward success and that it is crucial to quickly learn from failures and fail in a cost-effective manner.

The lessons learned from GG 2.5 were critical to the success of their current system, GG 3.0. GG 3.0 is an industrial-scale system that can produce cost-effective, consistent, and reproducible CVD graphene for a range of applications.

GG 3.0 is the only system in the world capable of true industrial-scale production of CVD graphene at industry-compatible prices and quality. General Graphene has developed thousands of graphene growth recipes and has the experience to optimize its properties for a wide range of applications. Additionally, they have transferred graphene onto more surfaces than anyone else in the world. From their failures, General Graphene has emerged as a leader in the industrial-scale production of CVD graphene.

General Graphene’s focus on building an adaptable industrial-scale process, along with several quality control and optimization techniques, has enabled the company to produce CVD graphene for a variety of end applications. Unlike other companies, General Graphene has remained application agnostic, concentrating solely on the mass production of CVD graphene and serving as a pure-play graphene foundry. This approach has allowed the company to capitalize on graphene’s versatility and provide tailored graphene solutions for specific end applications across various markets. With GG 3.0 ready for full-scale commercial operations, the most significant barrier to graphene’s commercial adoption has been solved – cost-effective mass production at consistent and reproducible qualities.

The vast potential of graphene and its ability to create new markets has always been an impressive part of its roadmap. However, progress has been slow, leading to skepticism among many in the scientific community.

In the end, the success of any novel material is largely contingent upon its ability to be mass-produced at prices, volumes, and qualities suitable for various end applications. Like silicon, graphene has the potential to create numerous new markets that are much larger than the material itself. Despite slow progress, General Graphene has accumulated seven years of experience in creating and optimizing CVD graphene for various applications. With the world’s first commercial-scale CVD graphene production system, General Graphene is confident in its ability to drive the commercialization of CVD graphene and finally bring it out of the laboratory and into real-world applications.


Originally posted on Innovation News Network. See the original article page here.
Please note, this article will also appear in the twelfth edition of Innovation News Network’s quarterly publication.