Graphene, a semi-metal that’s composed of a single layer of carbon atoms, is being hailed as the “Wonder Material” of the future because of all its potential uses. While it is still early days yet, and no company has fully developed an application that’s ready to be deployed for mass market use, MRP believes investors should follow this space closely. Graphene has the potential to be transformative for many industries, and major breakthroughs could occur at any time.
Graphene boasts some incredible properties. Not only is it the strongest material known to science right now (200 times stronger than steel), it’s also the thinnest and lightest (nearly zero mass) material in the world. Graphene also has amazing thermal and electrical conductivity properties. Indeed, it conducts heat better than diamond, conducts electricity better than silver, is extremely malleable, and impermeable to gases.
All of this means graphene can be used for many different things, from high capacity batteries to flat screen TVs, bullet-proof vests, spacecraft, nanomaterials, medical sensors, and DNA sequencers. Scientists believe graphene transistors may be able to operate at frequencies of up to a thousand gigahertz, which is ten times the maximum of silicon, and are looking forward to the time when graphene will replace silicon microchips. Even ground into powder, graphene retains many of its extraordinary properties, so it could replace graphite or other forms of carbon.
- ENERGY: Researchers at Rice University have invented a graphene-doped cathode that could make dye-sensitized solar cells a reality. This type of solar cell can work indoors, in semi-darkness, or even when it’s raining. The difficulty is that they have yet to reach the efficiency of silicon-based solar cells.
- TRANSPORTATION: Lithium-sulfur batteries have a much greater capacity than lithium-ion batteries, however they have a much short cycle life since sulfur is quite soluble. Adding graphene to the composition would inhibit the solubility of sulfur, thereby increasing the overall energy density of batteries that power electric vehicles. Scientists are exploring the best way to do so.
- ROBOTICS: Skin, popularly considered the largest organ of the human body, serves as a protectant, a coolant, and a sensory input device. Graphene might be able to duplicate some of that functionality for robots. Using cutting-edge Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) machinery from Moorfield, a British graphene company, scientists successfully created a transparent, flexible touch sensor that could eventually be turned into a new type of “robot skin.”
- BIOLOGY: Real human biome applications for graphene could be available as early as 2030. Already, scientists can sense and manipulate functions by grafting graphene onto cells. Researchers at the University of California found they could control the beating of human heart cells by using graphene, since it can convert light into electricity. Such optical graphene simulation even opens up the groundbreaking possibility of destroying cancer cells without damaging neighboring health cells.
- Furthermore, scientists are slowly improving the ability of graphene to interface with the human body directly. They anticipate an era of bio-integrated, implanted technology, when flexible computer clothing will gather energy from our heartbeats and muscle movements, sensors will monitor our DNA directly, and be able to feed information to us.
- DATA & SENSORS: Wireless communications requires specific filters to sharpen electromagnetic signals and eliminate interference. Graphene has been shown to be an excellent filter and linear polarizer for devices communicating in the terahertz range. The terahertz range promises to carry our data thousands of times faster than current wireless technology.
Given its bright future, companies are plowing millions of dollars into research to improve graphene production or to explore the many beneficial applications of the substance. The race is on to come up with a commercially viable product.
Corporate giants Apple (AAPL), Samsung, IBM (IBM), Lockheed Martin (LMT), and Foxconn (HNHPF) have chosen to gain exposure through patents for various applications of graphene. Apple, for example, is looking to incorporate inkjet-printed graphene into its screens to improve conductivity, while Lockheed Martin plans to prototype a graphene-based water filter which can remove mercury from water. Chinese and South Korean companies hold 43% of global graphene patents; US companies hold 23%.
Other companies are closer to pure plays in the graphene applications area.
- Graphene 3D Lab (GPHBF) launched a product called Conductive Graphene Filament which gives users the ability to 3D print circuitry and sensors for electronic applications.
- Graphene NanoChem (GRPEF) designs, formulates and markets several graphene-enhanced applications, with emphasis on applications for industrial use.
Yet another set of companies focuses on manufacturing variations of graphene.
- Applied Graphene Material (APGMF) produces high-specification graphene, including graphene powder, which it is able to disperse across a range of matrixes.
- Biogenic Reagents (private)is developing a process that produces graphene from wood feedstock rather than coal in order to achieve 50% greater absorption capacity.
- China Carbon Graphite Group (CHGI) produces a high-quality, stable graphene oxide dispersion that can be stored for several months.
- Elcora Advanced Materials (ECORF) which mines, processes and refines graphite, has developed a cost-effective process to produce graphene without using acids or oxides.
- Garmor (private company) is able to produce 20 tons of graphene oxide annually, and has developed an automated turnkey system that it plans to sell to other companies, thereby commoditizing the process.
This list of companies is by no means exhaustive; More can be found on this website. Investors should be cautious as most of the graphene companies still trade as penny stocks, given the industry’s infancy stage.