Investing in Graphene
In 2004, two scientists from the University of Manchester, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, discovered a novel nanoparticle called Graphene. The discovery was so significant that they later received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 for their discovery.
What is graphene?
The simplest explantion is that graphene can be described as a one-atom thick layer of the mineral graphite. Or as described on Wikipedia:
What is so great about graphene? Mainly that it has some extraordinary properties:
- Strength: If you had a layer of graphene as thick as saran wrap it would take a full grown elephant standing on a pencil to puncture the layer. According to rearchers at the University of Columbia, graphene is the strongest material in the world.
- Current Density: Graphene can carry more electricity more efficienctly, faster and with more precision than any other material.
- Hardness: Graphene is harder than a diamond
- Flexibility: Graphene can be stretched by up to 20% without incurring any damage
- Impermeable: Graphene is the most impermeable material ever discovered. Even helium atoms cannot squeeze through it.
- Thermal conductivity: Graphene is better at conducting heat than any other known material
- Weight: Graphene is the thinest and lightest material in existence
The material sounds too good to be true which is why there has been a great deal of media about Graphene’s potential over the recent years.
The list of applications sounds similiar to those proposed by other nanoparticles such as carbon nanotubes. The possibilities span many industries. For energy, improved solar cells, increased electrical storage, and more efficent batteries. For electronics, faster transistors, superior LEDs, and foldable displays. For biosciences, better drug delivery and tissue engineering.
As of February 2013 there are 8,416 published patent applications relating to graphene. At the end of 2012, China had the most patents with 2,200 and the US ranked second with 1,754 patents.
The number of patent families help by the top-12 applicants can be seen as follows:
Samsun’s heavy IP leadership position and close collaboration with Sungkyunkwan University (number two holder) holds promise in bringing graphene closer to commercialization. In 2010, Samsung and Sungkyunkwan University unveiled a prototype of the world’s largest flexible display, a 25” (63cm) flexible touchscreen made with graphene. A quarter of Samsung’s graphene patents published in 2012 relate to graphene-based LEDs. One advantage of adding graphene to LEDs is that a graphene quantum-dot light emitting material (as disclosed in a number of patents) addresses the cadium problem Samsung has been trying to solve which we discussed in an earlier article titled Nanosys Focuses in on Displays and Energy Storage.
The below statment made by the UK Intellectual Property Office regarding the dominance of patents held by acadamia implies widespread commercialization is still a ways away:
Patents for high-tech areas are generally dominated by academia in the early stages of development and the corporate sector grows and dominates as the technology is commercialised. A well-developed technology area would corporate domination of about 80%. At present the corporate and academia split is roughly the same. This supports the media reports which suggest that graphene is struggling to make its first commercial breakthrough into a consumer application because it is hard to make it in large enough quantities for practical uses. An increasing amount of research in academia is required to make this final step to commercialisation in real-world applications.
Like carbon nanotubes, graphene is a nanoparticle that shows superior properties but this does not neccesarily mean it will automatically become an enabler for various disruptive applications.
How do I Invest in the Graphene Story?
For public investors, there do not seem to be many options for investing in the graphene story at present. There are of course the bucket of junior mining companies that are quick to mention their production of graphite, however it is the production of graphene that is difficult at this time, not the acquisition of the raw material graphite at present. Undoubtedly many OTC companies will begin adding the word “Graphene” to their names, issue lots of promising press releases, make private placements to keep the company afloat for a while, then disappear.
However there are a few legitimate companies we will look at in a future articles that may provide some exposure to the graphene story including an small cap UK graphene, a 1-billion market cap materials company involved in graphite, and a 60-million market cap that claims to offer a complete solution to accelerate the commercialization of graphene.
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