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Printed Electronics World
Posted on March 14, 2013 by  & 

The keys to success in graphene commercialization

Graphene has received tremendous global interest because of record-breaking performance in electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, and strength, among other properties. This material has the potential to transform multiple industries, and push performance boundaries that will be needed to develop the technologies of tomorrow, especially to address future demands for energy and information.
 
Vorbeck Materials is at the forefront of this commercial development. With our production process where we manufacture high-purity graphene on an industrially viable scale, we have made it our focus to develop high-volume applications that can be commercialized cost-effectively today, and where Vor-x® graphene is a uniquely enabling technology to address market needs in terms of price and performance. We believe that the keys to commercial success will be the early measures we have taken to address market adoption considerations such as price/performance, IP protection, scalability and multi-site production to ensure supply stability.
 
 
While there are challenges in commercializing any new technology, there are lessons from past technologies that can be applied to the commercial development of graphene. One of the keys to market adoption of breakthrough new materials is that commercial applications should be identified and developed early, even as there is justifiable research interest in understanding all the properties. While there are indeed some applications such as future-generation chip technologies, that represent the holy-grail in terms of breakthrough performance and are several years away, there are several applications where graphene can be commercialized today, especially in the growing field of printed electronics (PE). Lack of getting this balance right may be argued to have happened in the case of buckyballs, and to some extent, carbon nanotubes.
 
 
One of our main technology platforms is the Vor-ink® conductive inks for printed electronics (PE), where we are working with several industry-leading partners to steadily roll-out graphene-enabled products and bring them to market, while continuing to push the boundaries of the technology for next-generation products. The primary benefit of Vor-ink® in PE is the unique combination of properties that are not delivered by existing carbon or metal-based inks:
 
  • high electrical conductivity without high-temperature sintering
  • rub and crease-resistance on flexible substrates
  • high throughput on existing commercial printing and converting lines
  • performance/price that is cost-effective at an item level, that cannot be achieved by other inks
 
Smart-packaging is one such key area in printed electronics (PE), and Vorbeck is tackling this on multiple fronts with industry-leading customers and partners. The first smart-packaging product to be announced has been the Natralock® with Siren technology anti-theft package. This package, developed with MeadWestvaco Corporation and enabled by Vor-ink™, was the first commercial product based on graphene. Products protected by this package have already been sold in stores, and the launch is steadily seeing expansion in terms of scale, geography and product mix at major retailers, while working on next-generation designs. Other smart-packaging applications under development with key customers include Vor-ink™ enabled technologies with interactive or visual features to increase shelf appeal, audio/visual features for seasonal and promotional packaging, and "intelligent" packaging for pharmaceutical and tracking applications.
 
 
Another area with immediate commercial applications for graphene-enabled PE is wearable electronics, where circuits printed directly on fabrics can be embedded into clothing to perform various functions, from heating to body-monitoring sensors, with applications from sporting apparel to medical devices. Vorbeck recently demonstrated a messenger bag at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) using Vor-ink™ to embed a mobile-electronics charger printed within the strap. Vorbeck is working with a premium apparel manufacturer on products that will be announced in the near future.
 
In addition to the mass-market and consumer applications, graphene will play a key role in more demanding technologies such as energy generation and storage, and Vorbeck is already working on these technologies. Vorbeck is at the forefront of next-generation battery development using Vor-x®, as recently announced in the licensing agreement with the Pacific Northwest Research Laboratory (PNNL) for technology that recognized us as "America's Top Energy Innovator" by the US Department of Energy.
 
While PE is just one area of growth for graphene, there are large opportunities for graphene composites in elastomers and thermoplastics, especially in high-value and high-growth industries such as automotive and aerospace, as new technologies and energy demands drive the need for new multifunctional materials that can meet the performance challenges at economically viable prices. This represents another leading product platform for Vorbeck with several products in the pipeline.
 
 
As mentioned earlier, CNTs have faced challenges in penetrating commercial markets, partly because of the high cost of manufacture. In contrast to CNTs, which use expensive, chemical vapor deposition (CVD) based-manufacturing routes, Vorbeck's high-purity Vor-x® graphene is easily derived from a graphitic precursor, which provides significant cost advantages over CNTs. Additionally, the wrinkled nature of the Vor-x® sheets formed by the patented process prevents re-stacking of the sheets into graphene nanoplatelets or rolling back up into nanotubes. This preserves the high specific-surface-area, which is a key performance attribute in several applications. In addition, for composites applications, the nanoscale wrinkling of Vor-x® enables increased mechanical interlocking with polymer chains and consequently strengthens the interaction and load transfer between Vor-x® graphene and the matrix material, enabling superior properties at exceptionally low loadings, even compared to CNTs. These advantages, without the problems of purity and poor dispersibility in many polymer systems encountered with CNTs, make graphene an attractive alternative to CNTs that should overcome the commercial challenges faced by CNTs.
 
 
We believe that future advances in printing and manufacturing technologies will enable the market to take even greater advantage of the multi-functional nature of graphene to address multiple product attributes for several industries. The commercial prospects for graphene are evident today and have a very bright future indeed, and Vorbeck is poised to be a leader in this enterprise.
 
Sanjay.monie@vorbeck.com
 
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by Sanjay Monie - Director, Development, Vorbeck Materials
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