Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Alan Shalleck-NanoClarity > The Non-Economic Graphene Flatland Déjàs-vu All Over Again!

Alan Shalleck
President
NanoClarity LLC

Abstract:

Born 15 years ago with the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the nanotechnology dream continues through the Graphene World. "Graphene applications will finally provide the long promised nanotech economic riches." The Graphene World (applications of planar single atom thick Nano sized sheets of linked carbon atoms technology) to many scientists and investors is the new realizable Carbon Nanotube (CNT) World! If CNT's potentially were good but unrealizable; Graphene should be better and, from what we have learned, realizable! "Look what we can do with them," they say. The rush is on ... but (pardon my English) it is déjàs-vu all over again.

March 17th, 2015

The Non-Economic Graphene Flatland Déjàs-vu All Over Again!

The Non-Economic Graphene Flatland
Déjàs-vu All Over Again!

By
Alan B. Shalleck Ph.D.
March - April 2015


Born 15 years ago with the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the nanotechnology dream continues through the Graphene World. "Graphene applications will finally provide the long promised nanotech economic riches." The Graphene World (applications of planar single atom thick Nano sized sheets of linked carbon atoms technology) to many scientists and investors is the new realizable Carbon Nanotube (CNT) World! If CNT's potentially were good but unrealizable; Graphene should be better and, from what we have learned, realizable! "Look what we can do with them," they say. The rush is on ... but (pardon my English) it is déjàs-vu all over again.

Here's the pitch. With Graphene, society finally has a nanotechnology development that can have major macro sized economic effect, on our GNP, on our lifestyle, and on our everyday living experience. Graphene applications can change the ways in which we build things; the ways in which we design things; the ways in which we apply things; the ways in which we cure things, and so forth. What was true conceptually for CNT's should obviously be true for Graphene (plus more) since a graphene is an improved and reconfigured flattened CNT, right? What we have expensively learned from CNT's should smooth our paths to a Graphene World filled macro level economic and commercial success, right? Investors pay attention! Here's more of the current hype.

Graphene inhabits a technically unexplored 2 dimensional world with all that implied potential. Graphene, as a 2 D device, should exhibit unique properties additive to those of CNT attributes... such as optical transmission, built-in RFI interference, inherent layered protection, etc. Nanoscience technical journals tell us that graphene can become: a photoelectric plane, a (properly doped) a semiconductor layer, a superb conductor, an insulator, an RFI protection material, a conductor between semiconductor elements, a sensor, an element with extraordinary mechanical strength in certain directions, a bio-neutral element useful for In vivo experimentation and sensing, a high capacity electrical storage element, be incorporated in coatings for military applications yielding strength, shielding, cloak ability and on. Any non-scientist can construct three pages of closely spaced two column potential graphene applications. Sound familiar? Didn't we hear these same benefits 15 years ago as the ‘Age of CNTs" began? Is the ‘Age of Graphene" going to be light years different in macro applicability from what we've experienced to date with CNT's and their affiliates and analogs? Let's explore why graphene is the same trap for potential investors.

Like any potentially economic technology, the Graphene World needs application business models for successful, sustainable profitability … ones that have exit strategies, generate: singularly proprietary useful advantages, clearly defined markets, potential customers, tight regimes of appropriability, pricing flexibility, profitable protectable margins, manufacturing scalability, lower costs, a learning curve potential, and potential for follow-on improved versions of products to protect all profits and realized market shares generated by early investment. Like those failed challenges to the CNT World, success is also not in the cards for the Graphene World, at least for the foreseeable future.

Look what has happened to date. As graphene developments hit the journals, investor opportunists rushed to patent ‘discoveries, designs and developments' and to form legal entities to lock up the economic benefits of those patents for forever. Notice these "investors" concentrated on IP, not on developed products, systems or applications. IP in developing technologies rapidly obsolesces. Although no existing graphene applications or ways to make graphene applications were lockup able they focused on a graphene "idea" …an "idea" is something the investor can go to court over when and if… Note the hogs entered the graphene market first…on review, most likely this early money was wasted money.

As with CNT's, Government, University, private research labs began a mad rush to see what could be done with Graphene to help the modern world and then how to make something of benefit etc. The tech paper output has been impressive. What was common to all was that making clearly defined and useful even experimental size batches of graphene was not easy, was hard to quality control, and needed high temperatures, needed substrates on which to grow the graphene and ways to peel single useful layers of graphene off that substrate. Notice that making graphene was defined in terms of low quantity miniscule sheets, small batches at best, with successful yields from the processes in the single digit percentages. Graphene was a research material… not even close to being ready for prime time… That was four years ago…it remains that.

Today, not much has changed. Manufacturing graphene in large consistent batches economically remains beyond reach; all projections are based on small hand constructed batches with applications in the lab, not on the production line… expensive and low output. Even in the semi conductor business … at Intel or at IBM, engineers have had difficulty incorporating graphene capabilities into their high temperature manufacturing environment where in the location (sic!) of every electron in the chip is known and the models are precise.
You find industry manufacturing executives talking about using graphene for high speed electronic interconnections mostly in the future … in generations of ever smaller chips to come. With vague references to 3D printing of graphene, as ways of improving throughput.etc.

The difficulties in the business model for graphene revolve around finding solutions to how best to make the stuff at low cost and to upscale nanotech sized planes to a useful macro dimensional design levels. Currently, the most common techniques available for the production of graphene include micromechanical cleavage, chemical vapor deposition, epitaxial growth on SiC substrates, chemical reduction of exfoliated graphene oxide, liquid phase exfoliation of graphite and unzipping of carbon nanotubes. Scaling up reliably with self reproduction quality was a CNT problem, continues to be, and is reflected directly in the need for similar manufacturing skills, processes, online quality control and handling for Graphene. That's the showstopper: How to make the stuff reliably and economically so we all can benefit. Because of high temperature manufacturing there is a high energy cost for graphene, because of the need for a substrate to generate the plane, manufacturing flow is costly, slow and inefficient. Because of the need in some instances for doping to provide desired characteristics, white glove conditions are needed for some graphene applications…and on.

The importance of the new Nanotechnology Lab being built at MIT I wrote about previously is clear. One of its main foci is how to make Nano stuff economically and efficiently. That MIT Lab is probably the most important quasi-academic nanotech investment occurring today. Without success there, the odds of economically developing a business model for graphene are low.

Last, economically, the graphene value chain is against success. Graphene is at the lowest level of the application value chain. It is 4-5 steps removed from the customer. It has to be incorporated in a component. The component has to be incorporated in a system. The system has to be designed into a salable product and, based on market realities, that product has to be priced to sell. Since profits are needed to justify every level of the value chain, very little net profit is left for the graphene manufacturer... just like with the CNT manufacturer. That equation is the bottom line economic reason why it is dejas vu … all over again.


Alan B. Shalleck Ph.D.
NanoClarity LLC
www.nanoclarity.com


©2015 - NanoClarity LLC. All rights reserved.















Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE




  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project