The Global Graphene Expo: What’s Happened in The Last Year

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Written by Liam Critchley 

So, the Global Graphene Expo is over, but it will live long in the memory of its attendees. I’ve had the pleasure of attending both the Graphene Innovation Summit last year and the Global Graphene Expo this year. For those who came last year, but missed this year’s event, you missed out! But, if this was your first year, then you can see what happened at last year’s event here.

First off, we’ll start with last years event. Last year was great, especially for a first event, and in my opinion, set the platform for the event to grow into what was put on this year. If you hadn’t have guessed, this year surpassed last year’s event and delivered an industry-led event that really showcased where graphene is entering the market around the world. Last year felt like the start of things, but this year saw some huge advancements and completely different ways of thinking about graphene, and there is still so much more to come. If there are three things to take away from this year’s conference, it is these:

  • For the first time ever, all the leaders of the largest graphene manufacturers came together in one place. A monumental feat.
  • Unlike last year where everybody defined every graphene derivative as “graphene”, everybody this year (in line with recent ISO terminology standards) clearly communicated what type of graphene they are making and using, and this significantly helps to provide a clarity within the market.
  • There has been a significant improvement in using graphene in products within the last 12 months, and it doesn’t necessarily matter on how “good” the graphene quality is.

Redefining What It Means To Be Graphene

We now no longer think of graphene, we think of the “graphenes”. The whole dynamic of how we perceive what the graphenes are has drastically shifted in the last 12 months. For those who were there in 2017, you may recall that everyone described their products as graphene, regardless of the number of layers or degree of functionalization, and the number of layers was seen as a huge determining factor as to the quality of the graphene. Fast forward 12 months, and the discussions about layer number that many anticipated to be one of the key issues of graphene production is not actually that much of an issue.

Allow me to elaborate. Yes, there are some differences between what people produce. Some produce graphene nanoplatelets, some produce graphene oxide, others produce CVD graphene. It is not the type of graphene that matters, it’s how (and where) you use it. This event showcased the best of how people are taking the likes of graphene nanoplatelets, embedding them in a matrix at very low concentrations, all without significantly increasing the cost of the product. If you took the highest quality of graphene for every product, then many of the consumer products that now use graphene would not be financially feasible, as the increased cost would make it unsellable. Instead, by using these higher layered graphenes, and graphene oxide derivatives, we are not only seeing an increase in end-user products, we are also seeing an increase in the market confidence as the graphene is now adding value without necessarily adding any cost. Each graphene will have its own market, and there is nothing wrong with using different types of graphene for different markets.

There is also another aspect to this as well. Regardless of which type of graphene is used, if it is to be used as an additive within a composite, then it needs to be functionalized before use so that it can intercalate within the matrix and be stable. Once you functionalize graphene, it is no longer “graphene” in the conventional sense and will have different properties. This is also one of the reasons why it is hard to characterize and define graphene as a single material. So, if the graphene is going to be changed before it can be used, it is not a necessity that the graphene must be a certain number of layers. Additionally, in many cases, it was reported that the lateral dimension of the graphene flake(s) plays a more important role than layer number when mixed with other materials. One thing still stands though, and that is anything over 10 layers is technically graphite.

Products, Products, Products …

What a difference 12 months makes! If the advancements over the last 12 months in the product output of the graphene industry are anything to go by, then the future looks bright. There were a few small mentions of graphene-based products last year, with the most notable being the use of graphene in Standard Graphene’s bike. This year, however, the plenary talks, five-minute product pitches, exhibitions and general discussions showcased so many products across many different industry sectors.

To give a feel of what was discussed, the real-world products where graphene is already used, or is in development, include graphene-polymer fibres that can be turned into safety gloves among other products, various types of graphene apparel including Directa Plus’ jeans, heat dissipating materials, solid-lubricants in oil and gas pipelines, and absorbent materials for cleaning up oil spills. This is in addition to the recent collaboration announced between XG Sciences and Ford for using graphene in automotive parts. But these are just a few examples, and more details will be revealed about the talks and the products in due course.

One great thing about being an independent person (i.e. no company affiliation) at these events, is the amount conversations that I can act as a ‘fly on the wall’, and one such example was an interesting discussion about an application area that is not often discussed—using graphene in fire retardant textiles/clothing—between Warwick Grigor, from First Graphene, and Matt Reid from Graphene One. Safe to say, there was many of these conversations around the Expo about how best to use graphene in new products and applications.

The Stakeholders Session

Once again, all the stakeholders, advisory board members, and just about anyone who has an interest in furthering the graphene industry gathered together the day before the Expo ‘officially started’. This year’s stakeholder’s session was once paired again with the advisory board meeting, alongside a private investor session for start-up companies to pitch their ideas to a room of investors.

The stakeholder’s session is a chance for everyone to get around a big table and discuss the key challenges in the industry; challenges such as standards, graphene safety, and setting up an industry taskforce that can help with growing the industry all-year round, rather than once a year. On the topic of standards, whilst it was acknowledged that standards are getting put into place with the recent ISO terminology, talks by Denis Kolstov, from BREC Solutions, on other ISO standards and Angie Walker, from NIST, on measurement and physical standards, showed that whilst progress is being made, international standards is something that takes time for every material/chemical—and graphene is no different.

At times, you could say there was an animated discussion between people around the room, although I’d prefer to use the term passionate. But it is this passion, and the questions that this passion brings, that is driving the industry; so long may these sessions continue to bring everyone together and debate.

The Launch of New Services

It wasn’t just products that were on show at the Global Graphene Expo, there were also other services launched from people within the community. The first one was the official launch in the US of the Nixene Journal, which is a new graphene-focused business journal that has two functions. The first is to give a comprehensive overview of who is producing graphene around the world, and the second is a tailored journal that dissects complex advancements down in simple and compact single page articles for decision makers who may not have the time to keep up with all the discoveries within the graphene space. Whilst it was already an active publishing house in the UK prior to the Expo, it is the first time that is had been introduced to the US graphene industry.

The second, was the official launch of the new Versarien app. Completed and ready to go just a few days before the conference, the team showcased their new app to attendees via their exhibition stand. The app is pretty neat. Those who have the app on their smart device can hover over specific images and the app will bring up an interactive three-dimensional display where users can specifically see which applications graphene is used in and alternate between the different aspects of each application. The three showcased at the event include the different parts where graphene is used in automobiles, aeroplanes and medical prosthetics, and to showcase an example, of one of the aspects for the automobile is how graphene can be used in the tires, etc.

What’s Next?

Given that the amount of commercially available products using graphene has exponentially increased this year, I would like to assume that it now sets a platform for even more growth over the next 12 months. How much more remains to be seen, but the industry is moving in the right direction. Likewise, there are efforts going in from the NGA to further lobby government to invest in graphene, but how this will play out is another unknown. There are always questions that are going to need to be answered, no matter how far the industry progresses. Questions this year ranged from “how long until standards are in place” to “what happened to the margherita bar from last night” , and I am certain that many different questions will be asked and addressed at future events. Regardless of the unknowns, we are seeing real-world progress; and in an industry that is still relatively new, that’s all you can hope for.

In terms of the event itself, it was a huge hit, and there are not many things that the NGA could do to improve it. That being said, there are plans for the future. The aim going forward is to keep a similar format which enables important discussions to take place with people in the industry about how to advance the industry, advance standards and to work out if there are any areas of potential collaboration between attendees. Now that all the main leaders in the graphene space have been brought together in one place, the key aim for next year will be to bring more decision makers from companies in potential end-user markets and provide the platform for a natural dialogue to take place between graphene producers and end user companies about how to implement graphene in these markets.

On a side note, for those who want to know more about what happened, this article is just the first about the Global Graphene Expo. Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing more articles in conjunction with the NGA on different aspects of the conference, but in more detail. This is an overview on the whole conference, so if you’re still excited to hear about the latest in the graphene industry, more is still to come.

Written by NGA Board Member, Liam Critchley.

About the National Graphene Association (NGA)

The National Graphene Association is the main organization and body in the U.S. advocating and promoting the commercialization of graphene. NGA is focused on addressing critical issues such as policy and standards development that will result in effective integration of graphene and graphene based materials globally. NGA brings together current and future graphene stakeholders — entrepreneurs, companies, researchers, developers and suppliers, investors, venture capitalists and government agencies — to drive innovation, and to promote and facilitate the commercialization of graphene products and technologies.

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