Graphene is promising to make a dramatic impact on society, with its superb strength and flexibility already pushing it into the construction, tire, and sporting goods markets, and the excellent electronic and optical properties inching their ways to commercialization, with first steps taken in the printed electronics world.
Apart from bringing exciting new applications, graphene is also making an impact on the business world, most strikingly represented by new partnerships and joint ventures. Although in theory the material has unprecedented properties, in practice many handling and processing issues need to be overcome on the way from the graphite mine to the final product. In addition to that, the graphite from which the material is sourced needs to be of ultrahigh purity, setting a stringent requirement for the graphite miners. Controlling the graphene process from beginning to end is a formidable task, however control is a must on the road to real world applications.
To get a grip on the entire graphene chain, from graphite mine to the consumer end, many companies have chosen to establish firm partnerships which include graphite mines and graphene specialists. The trend was initiated by Grafoid and Focus Graphite, which were established as two companies under the same leadership – they share a CEO, Gary Economo. Focus is a junior miner, with prime graphite mining locations in Quebec, Canada. To set themselves apart in a sea of graphite miners, Focus decided to place an emphasis on high-quality graphite. High grade graphite is used in batteries and for graphene. Both markets are expected to flourish in the coming years; the battery market largely thanks to electric vehicles, and the graphene market for the moment thanks to researchers, with a high likelihood of soon proliferating into just about every aspect of our daily lives. Grafoid is the branch that specializes in doing something useful and interesting with the graphite, be it finding new methods for mass production of graphene, or starting collaborations with battery and energy companies.
The idea of tight partnerships between graphite miners and graphene specialists seems a good one, with several others following with their own initiatives. The agreement between Graphene Laboratories and Lomiko Metals goes very deep, with Lomiko set to finance their graphene specialist for years, in exchange for equity and rights to be the main graphite provider. Lomiko recently announced the finding of 100% pure graphite on their property, which is definitely a good start for the collaboration. Lomiko owns a smaller property than Focus, and is also located in Quebec.
Not far from Focus and Lomiko sits Northern Graphite, the Canadian junior which is closest to production of graphite, expected this year or next. Although Northern is closer to production, its link with graphene does not go as deep. The collaboration is one with Grafen Chemical Industries, and only concerns the exchange of graphite for IP and patent rights. It remains to be seen whether the partnership will be expanded once graphene use really takes off.
Partnerships between graphite miners and graphene specialists are promising to bear fruit for both parties, and for the community at large, as we can expect our superfast graphene processors and graphene solar cells sooner than we had expected them last year, when most of these partnerships did not exist.
Something to look out for this year are deeper partnerships between Northern Graphite and graphene producers, as well as a more clear expression of graphene interest from Energizer Resources, which has up to now been limited. There is vibrant activity in the graphite/graphene community, revolving heavily around the Canadian miners. Most recently, a Quebec-based graphene specialist, Group Nanoxplore, was taken over by Mincom Capital, which is also run by Gary Economo, CEO of Focus Graphite and Grafoid.
The graphite/graphene market is getting hot, and these early players are bound to do good.