On this page, you can find my overview of the graphene industry and its’ key players, to be used solely for educational purposes. Many more, smaller companies, participate in the graphene marketplace and can be found by browsing through my business directory (the “companies” link above). To stay educated about the graphene industry, subscribe to the mailing list below to follow graphene business and technology news.
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Graphene is a form of carbon, which is sometimes derived from graphite ore and sometimes synthetically synthesized.
Graphite ore is dug in mines. To obtain graphene from graphite ore, one needs to perform another manufacturing step, for example liquid phase exfoliation or another chemical “exfoliation” procedure. “Exfoliation” is a term that describes the breaking of bulk graphite ore into its constituent graphene layers. With chemical exfoliation, one typically obtains “dirty” graphene, which is not actually pure graphene but rather graphene attached to other chemicals or to other graphene layers.
A popular process to synthetically make graphene is chemical vapor deposition (CVD) of graphene onto another material. CVD does not require graphite ore, as it uses various gases as precursors to graphene. CVD tends to result in nice clean layers of graphene, most commonly marketed to scientific researchers, although the method has been gaining popularity among microchip and display manufacturers.
At this stage, the graphene is in the form of a piece of material waiting to be sculpted for the desired application. The next step is to process the graphene into a component, such as an electronic transistor, or a very strong fiber, before integrating the component into the final product, like a mobile phone or a bulletproof vest. A sketch of the basic route of graphene from the source to the product is shown in the following figure.
The orange boxes represent a specific state of graphene, while the text outside the orange boxes are names of companies which participate at that stage of the graphene chain. Let’s start at the bottom left, at the graphite ore.
According to the US geological survey of 2012, more than half of the world’s graphite reserves lie in China. Recently, world governments have started to realize the technological importance of graphite, marking it second in importance after precious metals. In response, China has acted to protect its resource by raising export taxes on the material, resulting in rising prices of graphite worldwide. Generally, being a commodity, the price of graphite tends to be volatile. Keeping in mind that graphene consists of only one layer of carbon, one could think that a single graphite mine would be enough to supply the world with graphene, even if the wildest dreams of graphene usage materialize. That has shown to be true – most real graphene products to date use less than a percent of a gram of graphene, and graphene prices have been largely decoupled from graphite prices. The graphite miners listed here have shown a special interest in graphene and high-quality graphite, and for the most part have some connection with graphene companies and graphene research. Remember though: only a tiny fraction of graphite mined in a mine will possibly ever be used to make graphene, and most of the graphite will go to other uses, so many graphite miners are either cautiously exploring graphene or heavily (ab)using the graphene hype to market their businesses, which are only vaguely connected to graphene. Those companies listed here have at least been seen on graphene technical conferences and are active in graphene industry organizations.
Along with the mines, we list Grafoid, a small Canadian company which is 40% owned by Focus Graphite. Grafoid does not actually have a product to sell, but their idea is to act as a kind of liaison between the graphite mines, the scientific research groups, and graphene user companies.
Since early 2013, the Grafoid-Focus Graphite partnership is no longer unique on the graphene scene. Lomiko Metals and Graphene Laboratories (the owner of Graphene Supermarket) have forged a close partnership to exploit the excellent graphite quality of Lomiko for its use in graphene. This partnership brought Lomiko much closer to the graphene industry, and we’ll keep following this interesting joint venture.
Most graphene nowadays is grown with the CVD process. CVD results in large-area graphene, which does not have superb quality, but is decent and will perform well for most purposes. The CVD machine market is dominated by a select number of companies, placing them in a very favourable position in the graphene market. Most notably, CVD Equipment Corporation and Aixtron are the dominant providers of CVD machines for the graphene industry. CVD is used for many industrially relevant processes other than graphene, mostly related to the semiconductor and LED industry, however CVD Equipment has recently partnered with Grafoid, showing its dedication to graphene.
The second orange rectangle from the left on top of the above figure highlights companies which produce the large area graphene itself, by using CVD machines or something else. The main customer of the top three companies (Graphenea, Graphene Square, Graphene Supermarket) are scientific researchers, although industrial sales have been increasing. The last one, Graphensic, has just started as a spin-off of a Swedish university, and is looking for investors. They are also looking to target scientific researchers for the time being. Graphenea, Graphene Square, and Graphene Supermarket are market-leading suppliers of research-grade graphene in Europe, Korea, and the US, respectively. They are all out of the startup phase and may be looking for mid-range investor capital as well as partnerships with other industries.
Graphene-based compounds are mixtures of rather “dirty” graphene with something else, still retaining one particular great quality of graphene for a specific use. This group of companies focuses on cheap production of something that is derived from graphene with a clear purpose in mind. Thus most of these companies own patents on graphene-related products and aim to partner with larger companies closer to the end user, or manufacturers from other industries which could make use of graphene. The leading companies in the group “large-area graphene” have started to expand in this direction as well, and it will be interesting to see which sectors of the industry each will cover.
Between the second-level graphene companies and those that make final products like cellphones and satellite dishes lies a layer “advanced graphene components”, currently consisting of only two companies: AMO and Bluestone. These two seem to be the only companies making and selling components for modern technologies, such as graphene transistors, photodetectors, etc. That’s not to say that these are the only two companies that can make such devices, more likely there is just not market for them right now. AMO has a lot of research experience, which allows them to qualify as the company that will make a custom graphene-based solution for your needs, although, again, Graphenea, Graphene Supermarket (Graphene Laboratories) and others on that level could also make custom graphene devices for you. Similar to the second level companies, if you have venture capital or you own a high-tech company which is working on developing a modern product, you may look into partnering with companies of this group. Note that this layer of the chain is not strictly needed, meaning that middle-of-the-chain companies often bypass it to go directly to the end-user product manufacturer.
Finally, on the right-hand side of the graphene chain are companies which manufacture the end-user product. Many of those companies, like IBM, Samsung, and Sandisk, cover almost the entire graphene production chain, excluding the graphite mines (they tend to use CVD graphene). Obviously, only a small fraction of the business of these companies has to do with graphene, and the rest most likely has to do with silicon.
If you own a business that has to do with graphene or want to get involved in the graphene industry in any way, send me an email, or join the Graphene Stakeholders Association.