Graphene Tracker speaks to Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, Head of Consulting at IDTechEx. Khasha and his team have organised an exciting programme for this year’s graphene and 2D conference at the IDTechEx Show!. We caught up with him to see how IDTechEx thinks this conference will help advance industry, and helped address some of the biggest industry trends and challenges.
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 as always I feel that Graphene Tracker is doing a great job to cover the graphene industry. I continue to visit this website as a source of key first-hand information- it is very useful and reliable so thank you.
GT: Thank you Khasha. One of the impediments to the commercialization of graphene is its price. This is particularly true as graphene’s main go-to-market strategy is substitution. Do see graphene become affordable anytime soon?
Khasha: You are right, Marko. Graphene is more expensive than what it seeks to replace. In fact, even the price of the most expensive material it seeks to replace, CNTs, is fast falling to below $50/Kg. Graphene is over-priced for most applications, even when taking into account potential materials savings, i.e., reducing the loading of the additive for the same or better performance level.
That is however changing, and changing fast. Many companies are seeking to make graphene more affordable. The production capacities have been scaled, even though the utilisation rates are in the single digits. They cannot depreciate quickly yet, but have no choice but to reduce the profit margin in a $/Kg basis even though this might trigger a pre-mature race-to-the-bottom for many suppliers. Companies are developing new processes, reducing their precursor costs by vertically integrating with a mine source, or attempting to minimize consumables. This is bearing fruit and some already quote <100 $/Kg price at scale.
This is an important theme, and that is why we have invited some firms pioneering this trend to speak at the IDTechEx Show!. XG Sciences and Vorbeck were amongst the first to scale up, and they will both present. The Sixth Element has scaled up in China- another trend in general, and Talga Resources from Australia has also developed a very aggressive scaling and pricing strategy. Even Perpetuus Carbon Technologies in the UK has installed a certified 100 tpa capacity. We have invited all these firms to speak at the IDTechEx Show! because they are attempting to reshape the competitive landscape for graphene.
GT: There is often talk of the need for a ‘killer application’ to transform the fortunes of the graphene industry. Has there been any success yet?
Khasha: Sadly, the so-called ‘killer application’ remains as elusive as ever, but that is not to say that a range of new, niche and near-commercial applications are not being developed.
Let me give you some examples: graphene has a huge amount of surface and can therefore become a highly sensitive platform for sensor technologies. This was recognized by academics from the early days, and now companies are set up to focus on this. This is why we have invited Graphene Frontiers to speak at our conference. Graphene Frontiers have fully re-invented itself to focus on graphene sensors, and not ITO replacement; and that is also why we have invited the US Army to speak on their work on developing graphene chemical sensors. This is a promising frontier, and we are confident that our conference delivers value because the IDTechEx Show! also includes a co-located event on novel sensors.
Graphene is also finding applications as an anti-fouling layer in water filtration technologies, and we have selected G2O to speak on the topic at our conference. It is being used on technical textiles to help reduce permeation, and that is why we have invited Imagine Intelligence Materials to speak.
We believe that it is right that funding bodies are taking the long view, and pouring money into graphene and 2D materials research. The potential opportunities are endless, and when one company fails another will succeed. This will not happen overnight, and it will take time- perhaps another decade- for that killer application to be found.
GT: I have noticed that this year one of the focus areas of the conference is energy storage, why is that?
Khasha: For several years, there was a divergence of application ideas as graphene seemed to revolutionize an industry a day! Not only were most application ideas early stage and almost an academic curiosity, but they also created the risk of opportunity overdose for many small players who couldn’t focus their limited resources. That is changing, and energy storage is emerging as one of the key areas of convergence, and rightly so. In fact, we estimate that sales in this sector will approach $100m in 2026 at the graphene platelet level- see IDTechEx.com/graphene for further info.
In existing Li ion batteries, graphene platelet additives can reduce the resistive losses at high C rates, therefore preventing battery degradation at high discharge rates. For example, this is important for batteries used in electric vehicles, which is a market on the up. This is why we have invited the likes of Cabot Corporation, the number one supplier of carbon black- to speak at the IDTechEx Show!. They already have a product aimed at this market.
Success need not be confined to existing Li batteries. Already companies are hoping to solve the critical issue of cyclability or lifetime in two emerging batteries technologies: Si anode and Li Sulphur batteries.
Si anode batteries are set to become a $4.3 billion in 2026. In Si anode batteries the problem is that the Si anode changes its mechanical volume by 300-400%, causing it to break after just a few cycles. Results however show that mixing Si nanostructures with graphene platelets can extend the lifetime as graphene can act as a buffer material. This is a hot area, and that is why we have invited the likes of SiNode System and XG Sciences to speak at the IDTechEx Show!
Li sulphur batteries are also promising, and our team forecasts that they will become a $1.2 billion in 2026- see http://www.IDTechEx.com/postlithium for further details. Here, a process called ‘poly-shuttle’ causes the active material to leak and thus kills the battery just after a few cycles. Here too, results suggest that graphene or even graphene oxide platelets can help entrap LiS intermediary particulates and thus extend the lifetime. This too is a hot area, and that is why we have invited potential end-users such as Oxis Energy and Sion Power to speak at the IDTechEx Show!.
As you also know Marko, not all graphenes are equal, and it is not clear what morphology and impurity level, and thus what production method is suitable for what application. That is why we have invited IIT to speak on this at the IDTechEx Show!. They have done good work here on trying to experimentally explore the different options for batteries.
And finally on supercapacitors- this area remains an active area of interest despite the coating and volumetric energy density challenges. The promise of graphene is simply too attractive to ignore it. That is why we have invited Thales to the IDTechEx Show!. They are doing some of the most exciting work in the area.
GT: Dispersion was a persistent issue with CNTs, and it is already emerging as one of the big challenges for graphene. Will this become a show stopper?
Khasha: Dispersion is a huge challenge, but not one that is being ignored. Many companies are already moving downstream to prove their technologies at the intermediary- paste or masterbatch- level to help unblock the market. The same happened with the CNT industry. More importantly perhaps companies are developing solutions that aid the dispersion process, but the challenge for them is to prove that the addition of their dispersion technology does not make price out graphene solutions. Another, often ignored, incentive for graphene manufacturers to offer powders is to reduce the health and safety concerns for their customers. This is because graphene is at its least safe when it is in powder form, but once embedded many of the safety challenges dissipate.
The IDTechEx Show! also seeks to address the dispersion challenge. That is why we have invited Haydale to speak on their plasma functionalization process and why we have NanoXplore discussing their progress on graphene-polymer mixtures.
GT: and finally, there seems to be much activity in China on graphene. How do you see the impact of that on the industry?
Khasha: There has indeed been much activity in China. Chinese entities are taking the patent landscape by a storm and have now put an unbridgeable distance between themselves and the rest of the world. Chinese entities now feature heavily in the list of top ten patent holders, while there is a notable absence of Western entities. Chinese entities are also announcing ambitious production plans, and at least at the nominal level, they are now the largest group of graphene manufacturers, both for film and platelet type graphene. They also had success in the CNT world, and there is no reason to think that they cannot replicate that in graphene. This is therefore a major trend, and one that the IDTechEx Show! also seeks to address. That is why we invited The Sixth Element and Nanjing CNano Technology to lecture at the IDTechEx Show!
GT: Khasha, thank you for your time. We are looking forward to your keynote talk on 18 November at the IDTechEx Show!
Khasha: Thank you and I am looking forward to seeing you there.