The Graphene Council’s executive Director, Terrance Barkan, met with SciTech Europa to discuss the wider utilisation of graphene materials across sectors.
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The 2018 installment of the IDTechEx Show! which SciTech Europa travelled to Berlin to attend, presented the latest emerging technologies at one event, with nine concurrent technologies and a single exhibition covering 3D printing, electric vehicles, energy harvesting, energy storage, graphene, Internet of Things, off grid energy independence, printed electronics, sensors and wearable technology.
On the sidelines of the event, SciTech Europa met with the Graphene Council’s executive director, Terrance Barkan, to discuss the wider utilisation of graphene across sectors.
How would you characterise the composites and polymers sector at the moment when it comes to the increasing utilisation of graphene material?
We have done a survey of over 350 graphene producers, users, application developers and researchers, from which it has become clear that the primary market for graphene materials is in composites and plastics. Indeed, these sectors are the largest consumers of what is known as ‘bulk graphene’, which is multilayer graphene materials such as graphene oxide, reduced graphene oxide, and graphene nanoplatelets.
Where do you feel the biggest advances have been in fabrication and functionalisation – for instance, the drying process of graphene-polymer composites fabricated by solution-processing for excellent dispersion is seen as being time consuming and as suffering from a restacking problem?
In terms of fabrication, many, if not all, manufacturers are refining their processes in order to improve the consistency of the materials they produce, which is important as, until now, one of the biggest issues here has been batch-to-batch consistency in production.
Almost all of our manufacturing members have also begun to ramp up production, especially in the next year 2018-19; in one case, one of our manufacturing members has managed to increase their production capacity by more than 10 times.
Regarding functionalisation, this continues to be important, especially when it comes to being able to disperse graphene into precursor materials or into master batch materials.
For those who want to use graphene in composites or plastics, one approach is to work with a producer who can produce master batches that can do the dispersion for them; the dispersion element is absolutely critical to the success of using graphene in a composite or plastic, and a lot of the plastics or composites manufacturers don’t have the necessary expertise or the required equipment to adequately do this themselves. As such, working with a manufacturer to do master batches and to put that into polymers is perhaps a way to counter this.
When we last spoke, we discussed the issue of standardisation. What progress has been made here? Is there more of a need for this now that graphene materials are coming to be more widely used in the composites and polymers sectors?
Standardisation continues to be an important topic; what has been achieved since the last time we spoke has been that the International Standards Organisation (ISO) has adopted standard nomenclature for what graphene materials are, and that is important because so many materials are being labelled as graphene when they are not.
According to the ISO standard, graphene can refer to a material that is up to and including 10 layers of carbon. Those materials which contain more than this are to be considered micro-or nano-graphite. This is an important step to separate what is and what is not graphene.
The other area of standards that we are working on at the Graphene Council is to identify and define a minimum set of material characteristics that should be listed for each piece of material so that they can be consistently compared one to another and across different suppliers. At the moment, it is impossible to do that.
For example, we have recently studied the specification sheets for over 60 different graphene materials which yielded 45 different individual characteristics that were listed by the manufacturers at least once on any one of those data sheets. Across the 60-plus products, there wasn’t a single characteristic that was common to all of them. This demonstrated that it is impossible for a buyer to compare products from one manufacturer to another based on data sheets because they are all listing different combinations of material characteristics.
This is therefore an area we believe to be extremely important to standardise so that there is a minimum set of criteria or characteristics that are included for every material that is claimed to be graphene.
Where would you say the biggest challenges are when it comes to the wider utilisation of graphene – toxicity, and safety concerns, standardisation, and scale up fabrication, amongst other areas?
You touch on a number of subjects here – so on the health and safety side: the Graphene Council has a task force working on health and safety issues that is pulling together all of the available public information and research that has been done on toxicity of the material. We feel confident that those results will prove positive for the material since it is 100% carbon, and it is a different morphology quite unlike nanofibers or nanotubes.
Regarding the other issues, the biggest issue we see in the market at this point is a lack of education and awareness with the end user market, so in the plastics or composites industry, there are people who have heard about graphene but what they have heard is usually incorrect or out of date. They are also looking for actual examples of how this material is being used, and so there is a great deal of work that we are doing as the Graphene Council to educate a whole range of target markets, which includes plastics, composites, electronics, construction materials like concrete, rubber products – these are all areas where graphene is being applied today in real commercial quantities, but a very small percentage of these markets are actually aware of the potential use of graphene.
How do you predict the landscape will evolve moving forwards?
From the beginning, the role of the Graphene Council has been, and will continue to be, to represent the interests of the community, and this includes the graphene producers as well as researchers and application developers.
We believe that this material has great promise to unleash real innovation in advancing products across an extremely broad range of application areas. We have identified more than 40 significant vertical markets where graphene can have an impact, and this ranges broadly from biomedical applications to construction and structural materials, electronics, sensors, as well as the composites, polymers, and plastics that we have discussed.
That is all very exciting, and our role is to try to act as a catalyst in the marketplace to educate end users about it while representing the interests of manufacturers so that the entire value chain, from raw material producers to the ultimate end-user/consumer, can benefit from the amazing properties of graphene.
The Graphene Council
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This article will appear in SciTech Europa Quarterly issue 27, which will be published in June, 2018.