Just like carbon nanotubes were promoted in the early 2000s, graphene is being promoted as the next miracle material that will change the playing field in many applications across a broad number of industries. Like carbon nanotubes, some of the first applications will likely be in performance materials that target very niche markets. Remember carbon nanotube tennis rackets? One Italian company, Directa Plus, is a graphene producer that is actually making progress in commercializing graphene products including performance bike tires and rims.
Directa Plus is a 30 employee graphene producer which was founded in 2005 and is backed by private investors. The Company has two patented production processes they have developed. D+ is a low temperature, low cost, and environmentally friendly method for producing nanometals and nanoalloys. G+ is a low cost, high volume, environmentally friendly method used to produce 6 different graphene products:
In 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the first two patents protecting Directa’s G+ and D+ technologies. 2 years later they secured additional patents for these technologies in Europe, Canada, and China. Directa has a total of 26 patents granted and 19 pending to date. In addition to having a 30 ton per year graphene production capacity, Directa has been making progress in commercializing their graphene. In June 2012, they signed a commercial agreement with Italian company Vittoria S.p.A, a 1000-employee producer of performance bike tires and rims. Today Vittoria sells a line of products enhanced by G+ graphene such as the Qurano series of bicycle rims:
Through the use of Directa’s G+ graphene, rim weight is reduced by 15%, lateral stiffness is improved by 50%, spoke-hole strength is increased by 20% and temperature buildup during braking is reduced. Tests on tires show that adding G+ brings a leap in performance. Rolling resistance is cut by 12% equating to a 40-second time savings over a 50 km time trial.
Directa is also making progress in pursuing other commercial applications. In March 2014, Directa Plus signed an agreement with IVG Colbachini, a world leader in the production of mandrelbuilt low and medium pressure rubber hoses. Recently, Directa claimed to have achieved “excellent results” in using their graphene to remove hydrocarbons from a contaminated water basin in Romania in collaboration with Setcar, a Romanian company involved in decontamination. Directa states that G+ products are also being used as fillers to conductive polymers, as bases for new carbon fibres, as fire retardants in textile, in the preparation of conductive inks and for the water and air purification of organic and inorganic pollutants.
Directa claims to be “The largest European pristine graphene nanoplatelets production unit based on a patented and granted technology“. While other private graphene producers like XG Sciences and Angstron Materials have a much higher tonnage production capacity for graphene than Directa, the majority of graphene producers regardless of their size seem to be mute when it comes to providing details about what progress they are making in developing commercial products. Direct Plus on the other hand seems to be more open about what commercial products they are developing. It will be interesting to see if other graphene producers follow suit and give investors in graphene some hope that the early stages of graphene “productization” are in fact here.