Graphene: first ‘wonder material’ products hit the market

Nobel Prize winners Sir Andre Geim and Sir Konstantin Novoselov, isolated and characterised graphene in 2004. The first graphene products have now hit the market and already generate millions of dollars in sales. R&D on this revolutionary material continues apace with more than $2.4 billion in funding committed globally.

Sir Andre Geim and Sir Konstantin Novoselov from the School of Physics and Astronomy were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010 for groundbreaking achievements regarding graphene. This new two-dimensional form of carbon promises to transform technology. Its remarkable properties – strong, light, almost transparent, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity – make it ideal for applications in electronics, medicine, renewable energy and chemistry, to name just a few.

Industry quickly recognised the potential of this ‘wonder product’; by 2010, some 200 companies across the globe had made significant investments to bring graphene-based products to market. Around 8,000 graphene-related patents have been filed to date, evidence of the huge investment and rich pipeline of products under development.

Production

The growing demand for graphene has prompted production volumes to increase, hence reducing unit costs. More than 55 companies worldwide have invested $200-m to scale up graphene manufacturing.

For example, XG Sciences invested $10.5-m and hired 22 new staff to raise production from three to 80 tons. Garmor Inc in Orlando, USA, will soon produce 100 tons of graphene annually and employ 80-100 staff within five years. Ningbo Morsh Technology in China has invested $300 million in a 300-ton production line.

Between 2009 and 2013, global production rose from 12 to 205 tons, with a market value today of $10-m.

New technologies

Novel graphene-based technologies are being developed by many multinational companies, for example IBM, Samsung, BASF, Nokia, SanDisk and Fujitsu. The first pioneering products have already reached the market:

  • Sports equipment manufacturer HEAD has reinforced tennis racquets with graphene to make them lighter and easier to handle. HEAD predicts sales of $30-m in 2013.
  • Shanghai-based Powerbooster has collaborated with graphene producer Bluestone Global Tech to manufacture graphene-based touch screens. In 2013, monthly revenues from these screens reached $10 million.
  • Vorbeck Materials has developed Vor-ink – a graphene-based conductive ink for printed electronics. Customer demand spurred Vorbeck to increase its production capacity to over 40 tons and open an additional production facility.
  • Vorbeck has used Vor-ink to create a printed anti-theft packaging system for MeadWestvaco, a global packaging company. The system has been adopted by major US retailers Home Depot and CVS, generating annual revenues of $1-2.4-m for Vorbeck.

Science funding

Our isolation and characterisation of graphene sparked seismic shifts in global scientific funding. European funding for graphene research increased from €2.5-m prior to 2008 to €1-b for a flagship EU initiative over the coming decade. In the Far East, Singapore, South Korea and China together have poured $509-m into the research and commercialisation of the material.

Globally, our discovery has triggered research funding commitments of more than $2.4-b.

Key facts and figures:

Global Funding

Global funding for graphene R&D has reached $2.4-b.

Patents

Between 2008 and 2012 there have been 7,740 patents based on our graphene research.

Background

Research into the properties of thin materials at the School of Physics and Astronomy led to the discovery of a new class of materials: free-standing two-dimensional crystals, including single layers of graphite, boron nitride, several dichalcogenides and complex oxides.

The isolation and characterisation of single-atom monolayers of graphite – graphene – revealed the remarkable properties and technological potential for this material:

  • Thin films just one atom thick can be manipulated as strong, flexible, lightweight sheets
  • Graphene’s electrical field effect and a new kind of quantum Hall effect makes it ideal for use in transistors, sensors and other electronic components
  • Functional as an electrode in liquid crystal devices
  • Fast spin currents, raising the possibility of use in ‘spintronics’ to replace conventional electronics for data processing and transfer

Graphene: Made in Manchester

▲ Up to the top