Challenges and opportunities in graphene commercialization
Nature Nanotechnology 9, 730–734 (2014) doi:10.1038/nnano.2014.225
As technical knowledge, manufacturing methods and the development of applications mature, key factors will affect the pace of commercialization of graphene.
It is now 10 years since the Nobel Prize winners Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov published the first1 of a series of seminal papers that triggered a sharp rise in the level of graphene research efforts worldwide. Fuelled by public (for example, European Commission, UK and Korean governments) as well as private investments (for example, Samsung, IBM, Nokia), research on graphene has produced a substantial body of scientific knowledge, accompanied by a surge of publications and patent applications. The past 6–7 years have seen a steady, worldwide emergence of private ventures focused on the manufacturing and commercialization of graphene and graphene-based materials, with 44 companies currently active (Mark Rahn from MTI Venture, talk given at Graphene: Commercialisation and Applications, Univ. of Manchester, 12–13 June 2014) and a range of these materials commercially available.
Nevertheless, there are only a few graphene-based products that have reached the market, such as the tennis racket by Head, the battery strap by Vorbeck, the oil-drilling mud by Nanochem or the phone touch screen by Samsung. These products represent an initial market entry rather than the first, full commercial wave of graphene products. The size of the graphene market was estimated to be around US$12 million in 2013, indicating that so far we are still in a phase of research and development, in which the market is dominated by sales of raw graphene materials. The market projections for the next 5–10 years, however, indicate significant expansion and revenue increase. An increase in graphene demand should drive up production scale and drive down costs, resulting in a shift from material sales to a market dominated by sales of graphene-based components, systems and products.
The steep rise in graphene application patents further supports the realization of an industrial graphene market in the upcoming years3. Figure 1 shows the comparison of the patent landscape of different materials. The number of graphene patents has increased significantly more steeply than for the other benchmark materials, including silicon (Fig. 1, inset).
Progress in the commercialization of graphene can be assessed by looking at the growth of demand-driven graphene production (rather than production capacity) and benchmarking it against that of carbon fibres and carbon nanotubes.
Figure 1: Number of patent applications and granted patents by first publication date.
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