Graphene Tracker speaks to Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, Head of Consulting at IDTechEx. Khasha obtained his PhD and MPhil from the University College London and the University of Cambridge, respectively. At IDTechEx, Khasha advises major multi-billion dollar corporations around the globe on their growth and technology strategy in the field of emerging technologies.
Khasha has been the lead analyst at IDTechEx examining the technologies and markets for advanced materials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes. He is the main author of the IDTechEx report on Graphene Markets, Technologies and Opportunities 2014-2024.
Khasha lectures globally on the topic and is in charge of designing the speaker programme for the Graphene LIVE! conference series. The next event will take place on 19-20 Nov 2014. This is a co-located event, with an expected 2,500 attendees and 200 exhibitors.
GT: Khasha, thank you for taking out of your busy schedule to answer our questions and provide some insight into the state and direction of the graphene market.
Khasha: Hi Marko, it is my pleasure to speak to you and I feel that Graphene Tracker is doing a great job to cover the graphene industry. You not only report the best and the most important news but you bring more value by giving insights in the market. We really appreciate your good work.
GT: Thank you Khasha. Do you think we are reaching the peak of the hype cycle, or are we already on our way to disillusionment? What does that mean in terms of market growth in the coming years?
Khasha: In general there is more realism in the industry after the early days in which there was tremendous interest and hope. The rate of company formation in Europe and US has certainly slowed, product concepts are becoming more tangible and companies are finding their focus areas instead of wanting to conquer all the disparate potential, media coverage is a little more subdued, company valuations are down even though many institutional investors are staying the course, and so on. Interestingly, companies are moving up the value chain to offer intermediary products and this is welcome news as it reduces time to market, end user uncertainty, and if successful, will help set graphene apart from carbon nanotubes, which proved to be extremely hard to disperse. All these suggest that we are moving past the peak of hype.
The picture in China and Korea is however a little different. Chinese players are fast playing catch up and brining large production capacities on-line, while the interest in Korea is booming and the fact that there is already widespread experience in carbon nanotube production will help. The interest in Japan remains somewhat subdued and there are only two small scale suppliers on the market. This is somewhat out of character as Japan is strong on advanced materials.
But the lack of having found the so-called ‘killer’ application or an application in which graphene has a unique or first mover advantage is impacting the mood in the industry. There is feeling that graphene is following in the footsteps of carbon nanotubes, which were hugely hyped in their early days too. The feeling is now that graphene will need to take small incremental market share across multiple fronts to grow but that there won’t be a revolutionary overnight success. It is proving to be a slow marathon and not a sprint. We think that the market at the material level will grow to close to $400 million in 2025.
GT: Graphene producers have been partnering with (and in some cases overtaken by) graphite miners and bigger application developers. Is this trend likely to continue in the future? What big players have a foothold in the graphene market, and from which end use sector do you expect the next big players to enter?
Khasha: Graphite companies are certainly interested in the market. We have companies like Focus Graphite, Mason Graphite, Lomiko Metals and American Graphite all finding some exposure to the graphene potential via acquisitions, investments or partnerships. It is natural as they are always looking to create more demand for their graphite, which is a precursor for graphene manufactured using bottom-up techniques, particularly as their stock valuations have been stagnant for some time. We think that the same trend will also occur in the supply market for 3DP materials.
Players from a variety of sources have sought to gain exposure to the graphene supply business. We have steel manufacturers like Posco Steel, electronic companies like Samsung, chemical and material companies like DSM and Hanwha all taking out stakes in graphene companies. Numerous companies have research programmes on graphene and are actively filing patents. R&D samples have all been widely distributed across the world to R&D labs in large corporations. Pretty much everyone has tried some form of graphene.
There is increasingly a focus on batteries and this makes sense as carbon nanotubes also found success as additives, a few wt%, in energy storage devices. Composites are also very promising so we think that the next wave of big interest will come from companies already active in these sectors as material suppliers.
GT: In your webinar “ITO Substitutes – Take Off or Fizzle Out?”, you were not very enthusiastic about graphene as a potential ITO replacement. What is graphene’s weakest point in that game? On the other hand, what does graphene have that other technologies don’t, and what fraction of the transparent conductor market do you predict graphene to uphold in the long run?
Khasha: CVD graphene is still not ready for large-scale production although that is changing fast. The transfer methods are improving and many companies, particularly in China and Korea, are announcing ambitious scale-up plans. CVD graphene also does not have a low sheet resistance so while it might reach a performance level on par with existing ITO on PET solutions it will struggle to compete with emerging technologies like metal mesh and sliver nanowires, at least in terms of sheet resistance. It means that it may not be good enough for emerging and future applications of transparent conductive films. Graphene however is thin, although the substrate dominates the overall thickness. Graphene is also robust and flexible, and may one day become very cost competitive. This can happen when graphene production costs approach the limit of the bill of materials but we are still far from that today. So we think that graphene will remain a very small and niche player in this sector. ITO will continue to be the leader but metal mesh and silver nanowires will be the leading alternatives, at least in the medium term.
GT: I noticed that you added “2D materials” to the title of your famous Graphene LIVE! conference series. Why is that? What are the most exciting 2D materials other than graphene?
Khasha: Other 2D materials are still in the R&D phase and there is little commercial activity but the early signs are that this can be a new frontier of material research. Many materials are now made in a 2D form such as boron nitride, a dielectric, or molybdenum disulfide, which can give rise to clean transfer characteristics in a transistor or be used as a photo sensor with good On/Off contrast.
In fact, graphene has many shortcomings. For example, it has no bandgap therefore it is hard to turn it into a transistor, particularly for digital applications. Device architectures and operating principles need to be changed to accommodate its peculiarities and that is a major barrier to adoption. The hope is that these materials will bring complementary properties to the table and that their 2D nature will dramatically improve their performance compared to their bulk counterparts.
GT: Khasha, thank you for your time. We are looking forward to your keynote talk next week at Graphene LIVE! in Santa Clara.
Khasha: Thank you and I am looking forward to seeing you there.