By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Vig Sherrill literally glows with unbelievable enthusiasm and animation when he talks about a decade-old material called graphene.
“It will change the world,” he says unabashedly of the technology around which his latest start-up – General Graphene – is based. “Graphene is likely the most important substance ever discovered.”
To prove his point, Sherrill ticks-off a list of characteristics for the material:
- Ten times as strong as diamonds.
- Between 200 and 300 times as strong as steel.
- Can carry more than a thousand times the current than copper.
- Most thermally conductive substance ever discovered.
- Most flexible substance ever measured.
- A material that is both opaque and transparent at the same time.
- A spider web thin sheet of graphene will support 130 pounds.
- It takes one million sheets of graphene to equal the thickness of a single paper towel.
You get the picture; this technology is, as the late Ed Sullivan used to say, “Really big.”
So, what’s the challenge? It is cost, something that Sherrill believes will be addressed very soon, thanks to technology he has licensed from the University of Texas and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
“Graphene is the most expensive product on the planet by weight,” he explains. A sheet of the material measuring one square meter cost a million dollars to produce until 2013 when the price dropped to $100,000. Researchers at ORNL have developed a methodology to reduce it to as little as $5 to $10 per square meter, but Sherrill says, “That’s still too expensive to be used in anything major.”
He believes that continued research and other innovative approaches will validate the commercial viability of graphene as a breakthrough technology. To help further reduce costs and spur the market, Sherrill visualizes graphene manufacturing plants scattered around the world, utilizing methane drawn from old landfills and other sources to make the material.
“We want to be the Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) of aluminum for graphene,” he says of General Graphene.
As far as market size and focus, Sherrill believes it is unbounded. “We have not even begun to think of all the ways to use it,” he says.
One high potential area is desalinization to provide drinking water to arid countries, something that is made possible because of the unique properties of graphene.
Sherrill is currently raising capital and says he needs $5 to $6 million now with a similar amount later when machines to make graphene are being manufactured by the company.
“I love this technology,” he says. “I don’t want to be the CEO forever as my goal is to start this, getting it going, recruit great partners, and then focus on driving graphene production.”
To see a demonstration of some of the unique properties of the material, click on this link to a YouTube video.
We’ll wrap-up our series on Sherrill with a short article on the lessons he’s learned over seven start-ups.