By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Vig Sherrill is always the upbeat entrepreneur, but he was particularly pumped-up when we caught-up with him recently to get an update on General Graphene.
This is the seventh start-up for the former resident of Princeton, NJ who moved here about three decades ago. Even though he has started so many companies, he rejects the moniker of “serial entrepreneur.” You can read his reasoning in this teknovation.biz article from August 2014.
“The traffic stuff with Bill was a lot of fun,” Sherrill says of his sixth start-up, a company now known as GRIDSMART that he co-founded with Bill Malkes. “I figured this would be a lot easier, but it’s been so much harder.”
What is it that Sherrill and the team at General Graphene are trying to do?
Simply stated, it’s to develop and commercialize a way to mass produce a material that he has described as “the most important substance ever discovered,” but one that costs about $100,000 to produce just one sheet measuring a square meter. That is obviously way too expensive for much commercial use.
As explained by Sherrill and displayed on the company’s webpage, graphene is “harder than diamond; 200 times stronger than steel; 1000 times the current carrying capacity and 20 times more thermally conductive than copper; impermeable to all substances known; inert in the human body; anti-microbial; corrosion resistant; flexible and almost transparent.” In addition, it’s a mere one atom thick.
Making it in a cost-effective process – maybe $10 to $20 a square meter – opens-up many industrial applications like desalination, membrane production, biologicals, stem cell scaffolding, and as a replacement for indium tin oxide that is used to make transparent conductive coatings for liquid crystal, flat panel and plasma displays.
Sherrill said General Graphene reached two significant milestones in 2016, some two and one-half years after starting, and the company is on the verge of another one this year. Versions 1.0 and 1.5 of the manufacturing prototype have been successfully achieved. Regarding the second milestone, Sherrill says it was “the first proof of real atmospheric production of high volume, high quality graphene.”
Version 2.0 is expected soon with a goal of producing cost-effective graphene from the new process by the end of 2018.
“It’s truly like aluminum or plastics when they first started,” Sherrill explains.
Getting to where the start-up is today has required support from others, something the company’s Founder readily acknowledges.
“We did not invent the technology,” Sherrill says, quickly adding, “We give Oak Ridge National Laboratory all the credit.” The underlying technology is licensed from the lab.
“We also wouldn’t be here if Eric had not funded us,” Sherrill says in reference to Eric Dobson and Angel Capital Group. “He took a big chance on us.”
This region has been known for years for its materials research, and Sherrill sees graphene being an important addition.
“It’s a perfect fit for the composites focus here,” he says.