Nanocarbons in 2022: Small in Size but With an Ever-Growing Commercial Impact
The field of nanocarbons is not new and it has certainly been the victim of too much hype and false dawns, but things have changed. Across 2022 and into the decade ahead, CNTs and graphene will enter different phases of their industrial expansion. MWCNTs are already in this growth phase given their key application in lithium-ion batteries, SWCNTs and the large class of graphene materials are still searching for that high-volume use case, but that day is coming as industrial engagement continues to ramp up.
The opportunity for advanced materials. Source: IDTechEx
In this article, IDTechEx will bring you the key news and trends for carbon nanotubes and graphene-related materials across carbon nanotubes and graphene. For more information, see the leading reports on the topics: "Carbon Nanotubes 2022-2032: Market, Technology, Players" and "Graphene Market & 2D Materials Assessment 2023-2033".
2022 has been a significant year for carbon nanotubes. Known since the early 1990s, it has taken a long time for multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) to have significant commercial uptake, but that has all changed with their role in the cathode of lithium-ion batteries. IDTechEx is forecasting significant growth from modest roots, with the total CNT market to exceed 70,000 tonnes of annual demand by 2032. This demand outstrips current capacity, so a decade ramping up is beginning.
The industry news has been progressing in recent years and 2022 did not change this trend. LG Chem announced that they will be building a fourth plant, aiming to be operational by the second half of 2024; this would be their largest plant at 3,200tpa capacity and take the total across all four plants to 6,100tpa (the third is being constructed and due to be in operation in 2023). They also secured EPA approval crucial for the JV between General Motors and LG Energy Solutions for the production of their Ultium cells in Michigan, US. It is not all good news for LG Chem concerning CNTs; a patent infringement lawsuit was filed against them by Molecular Rebar Design and Black Diamond Structures.
MWCNT capacity progression. Source: IDTechEx
LG Chem is not alone in this field. Cnano is one of the early market leaders, Cabot Corporation made a notable acquisition of SUSN in 2020, and JEIO & Kumho both increased their activity.
This is not the only activity this year. Huntsman is progressing towards their first 30tpa pilot plant in Texas, due to be operational in 2023, with plans to rapidly scale afterward. This comes many years after their acquisition of the technology from Nanocomp. Also in the US, Chasm Advanced Materials announced a US$25m IP-based funding arrangement with AON as they progressed their work on nanotube hybrids, including work for lithium-ion batteries and concrete
SWCNTs are at a different stage to their multi-walled counterparts, they offer unique advantages, but with limited players, a high price-point, and challenging integration, the commercial adoption has not been seen. They offer much promise in lithium-ion batteries for silicon anodes, but for this application, they are not alone; there are many well-funded solutions close to the market. A key piece of 2022 news impacting every sector has been the US spending bills, including the CHIPS and Science Act. This has delivered clear incentives to drive R&D, and as we look to the next-generation of semiconductors, SWCNTs and other nanocarbons may play an important role in one of the key global sectors.
A casual observer may think that graphene is the one with huge commercial uptake, not its older sibling MWCNTs. There remains little drop off in the news and excitement of this field as investors and companies remain optimistic about the outlook of the market potential. Any reader should be under no disillusionment that the market for graphene material is anything but small to date, but IDTechEx do forecast a significant uptake as this enters the next phase of its commercial journey, with the total market to exceed US$1bn by 2032.
Market breakdown by revenue and volume. Source: IDTechEx
Despite this, one of the most significant news stories was that XG Sciences ceased operations in mid-2022, and subsequently, a "significant portion" of their assets were acquired by NanoXplore. XG Sciences was one of the earliest and most prominent graphene players, formed in 2006. They developed various exfoliation processes that produce a range of products, although typically with a thickness far greater than the ISO definition of a graphene nanoplatelet (GNP). XG Sciences established a notable capacity and had several announced commercial engagements from Callaway (golf balls), Grays Hockey (hockey sticks), Niagara Bottling (plastic bottles), and most notably, Ford.
IDTechEx has been stating for many years that there will be consolidation in the graphene market in the mid- to long-terms. Compared to mature conductive carbon additive sectors, such as carbon black, there are only a few major players; this news is the first sign of more to come. There was some other smaller similar news in 2022, with Imagine Intelligent Materials also ceasing operation and their assets being acquired by Ionic Industries.
There have also been strategic acquisitions by graphene players. This has been very apparent over recent years, and in 2022 AVANZARE acquired NASIKA PRODUCTS to enhance their rubber capabilities and reach. In other composite news, Gerdau Graphene launched new graphene-enhanced polymeric masterbatches. Gerdau partners with many graphene manufacturers and, like other masterbatch producers, can select the appropriate graphene (or a combination thereof) for the appropriate role. Graphene powders are a broad family, and this may result in more partnerships to offer complementary solutions, such as that seen in 2022 between NeoGraf and First Graphene.
The field of graphene and the broader space of 2D materials maintains strong academic interest and is also prioritized at a national level. In November 2022, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced that they would be establishing a national innovation center focusing on graphene in Ningbo.
2022 has continued the emerging trend in using either biobased or waste feedstock to produce graphene (or advanced carbons, more generally). Perhaps the most notable news here is from
Levidian, who use a methane feedstock and microwave process to generate hydrogen and graphene, and secured GBP£12m investment from Baker Hughes. Earlier in the year, Levidian announced a partnership with Abu Dhabi's Zero Carbon Ventures, who have committed to deploying 500 of their LOOP systems. In the field of biomass feedstocks, Bio Graphene Solutions announced a CAD$3m private placement.
Concrete remains one of the key areas being discussed in graphene. There have been more demonstrations and some partnership agreements with the likes of First Graphene & Fosroc International and Directa Plus announcing their first major contract. Black Swan Graphene, who licensed Thomas Swan's production process, began trading on the TSX Venture Exchange as they ramp up their plans for low-cost graphene for concrete applications and beyond.
One of the key applications for graphene to date is in thermal management materials, mainly for consumer electronics in China. Across 2022 this did not diminish, for example, with roles in Huawei's new Pocket S clamshell smartphone. Elsewhere in consumer electronics, LG Electronics announced they would be launching graphene-enhanced earbuds, and in healthcare, GraphWear raised US$20.5m for their graphene-enabled glucose monitor.
Graphene material revenue by end-use application - 2033. Source: IDTechEx
In the energy storage space, there remained a host of activity. VoltaXplore (the JV between NanoXplore and Martinrea) announced the commissioning of their demonstration facility for their silicon anodes. Skeleton Technologies added to their already notable funding rounds by raising a further EUR€37.6m taking their total to over EUR€200m. The company has also announced that they will be building a new supercapacitor plant near Leipzig, Germany.
Graphene's role as a conductive additive is where most of the industrial activity is, but graphene films and wafers for electronic applications remain a highly active area. The most notable 2022 news came right at the start of the year with Paragraf, who specialise in MOCVD graphene, securing US$60m in Series B financing led by New Science Ventures. Paragraf's first product is a hall effect sensor but are developing more in the field of graphene electronics.
IDTechEx has been providing independent analysis on the nanocarbon industry for over a decade. In their leading reports, "Carbon Nanotubes 2022-2032: Market, Technology, Players" and "Graphene Market & 2D Materials Assessment 2023-2033", detailed analysis and market forecasts are provided as these materials enter different stages of their commercial journey.