By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
If you doubted the emerging importance of graphene, a material first isolated and described by scientists 13 years ago, the number of people who gathered in Nashville earlier this week to discuss the advanced material should quickly change your opinion.
“We hoped to have 80 or 90 registrants; we got 160,” Zina Jarrahi Cinker, Executive Director of the National Graphene Association (NGA), said of the first-ever “National Graphene Summit & Expo.” She also noted that the event was targeted on the U.S., but attracted a significant international representation.
The three-day Summit, which concluded yesterday, was attended by scientists, entrepreneurs, business executives, and even a smattering of investors, all intrigued with the potential of the extremely expensive material that has amazing properties.
As previously noted in this teknovation.biz article, two Knoxville area individuals – Vig Sherrill, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of General Graphene, and Eric Dobson, CEO of Angel Capital Group – were featured on a panel on “Graphene Ventures and Capital” that I had the pleasure of moderating.
The Summit was the brainchild of Ed Meek, NGA Founder and President and a long-time acquaintance from our respective days in higher education administration. Meek and his team pulled-off the event just six months after founding the non-profit organization.
Much of what we knew about graphene ahead of the conference came from an interview we did with Sherrill in 2014 when he described the materials’ characteristics as follows: (1) 10 times as strong as diamonds; (2) between 200 and 300 times as strong as steel; (3) able to carry more than a thousand times the current compared to copper; (4) most thermally conductive substance ever discovered; (5) most flexible substance ever measured; (6) both opaque and transparent at the same time; and (7) able to support 130 pounds with a spider web thin sheet of graphene.
The key theme that occurred during Monday’s sessions was the proverbial “chicken or egg” conundrum – how do you create a sufficient market to drive down the price without having the volume of demand that can create the economies of scale you must achieve?
“Graphene is the first wave of advanced materials,” Antonio Castro Neto, Director of the Singapore-based Centre for Advanced 2D Materials, said in his keynote presentation. “It has some very nice properties and is the closest (of the advanced materials) to commercialization.”
Those points and the criticality of creating a market were emphasized by Sherrill in a one-on-one discussion ahead of the Summit and again during his comments on Monday.
“How big was the plastic market before plastic was invented?” Sherrill asked. “How big was the aluminum market before it was invented? How big was the silicon market before it was invented? How big was the social media market before it was developed? How about the first communications company making parts for a market that did not exist back in 1985 (QUALCOMM)?”
His point was clear. We don’t know what we can do with something until we have it available in mass quantities and at an affordable price.
“The graphene industry is just starting,” Neto observed. Yet, there are some early indicators of sectors where opportunities exist, and the answer is almost anything you can imagine.
Kari Hjelt, Head of Innovation for the European Union’s (EU) $1 billion Graphene Flagship initiative, says his organization has business development hubs across the EU focused on everything from energy to composites, surfaces and coatings, electronics, wearables, biomedical, optoelectronics, and photonics.
“Everybody is waiting for something wonderful to happen,” Hjelt observed in his opening keynote address. As he cited examples of concrete developments in Europe, you could clearly begin to understand the breadth of opportunities.
- There’s a company in Germany developing flexible Wi-Fi receivers using graphene.
- Airbus is exploring aerospace applications, as one might assume.
- Nokia and Ericsson are collaborating on high speed data transfer products.
- There’s an artificial retina being developed with graphene.
We met Andrea Lazzarino, Founder, and Paolo Bucciol, Co-Founder and CEO of Deewear, a company located near Venice, Italy, that has developed a line of exercise clothing that uses graphene to provide thermoregulation in both cold and warm weather.
Say what, you might ask? Remember the conductive properties of graphene that harnesses your body heat.
Yes, anything is possible in a really emerging market sector.