Graphene commercialisation: 2014 and the outlook
2014 has been an eventful year for the graphene industry. The first round of commercial applications has already been announced, and the industry has witnessed intense investment and acquisition activity while further companies have gone public. Despite the high interest, the valuation of public graphene companies has been on the decline, returning largely to where they were at the time of their IPOs.
IDTechEx Research has been analysing the market for 3 years now and has published its data/forecasts, findings and insights in its Graphene Markets, Technologies and Opportunities 2014-2024 report.
Focus and convergence
The graphene community continues to dream up a steady and divergent pipeline of long-term applications. Despite this, there is still a lack of the so-called 'killer application' and the suppliers are pursuing a subsection go-to-market strategy. This will inevitably wear down the prices in the long-run. We note that the competition with black carbon continues to apply pressure on carbon nanotube prices.
We find that today commercial players have more realistic expectations, showing a convergence of focus on composite and energy storage applications and en masse migration further downstream to offer intermediary products. This is a change from recent times in which companies had over-ambitious plans and their (typically) small resources were spread over too many addressable markets.
The announced production capacity worldwide is estimated as being close to 500 tpa. This is spread- across more than 20 players. Despite the comparatively low base, there is a large over-capacity on the market, which has been installed in anticipation of the first phase of demand after the initial qualification periods. This is not atypical as suppliers take the risk to prepare for the market uptake.
The activity in China is on the rise with bold production capacity announcements from several suppliers of graphene nanoplatelets and CVD graphene. Chinese entities have already filed more than 2,000 graphene related patents too. The interest in Korea is also strong with Samsung (largest patent holder as they were in the carbon nanotube field too) and LG pulling the strings while the industry is leveraging its experience, particularly with carbon nanotubes, to create a local supply chain.
The investment in graphene also continues. In total, approximately $150m has been invested in new graphene companies, although again the investment is spread over at least 20 companies. The portfolio of investors is also diverse, including venture capitalists but also strategic investors from a variety of sectors such as steel manufacturing (e.g., Posco), graphite mining (e.g., Focus Graphite), consumer electronics (e.g., Samsung), chemical and material (e.g., Hanwha & DSM) and oil and gas (e.g., Repsol).
Comparison with carbon nanotubes and differentiation potential
Graphene is often compared with carbon nanotubes as they share many similar material properties and also both were hyped. Carbon nanotubes have however found qualified success in a variety of sectors as additives such as plastic car body parts that can be electrostatically painted, plastic fuel lines/systems that can dissipate electrostatic charge and Li ion batteries. In total, we estimate the global production capacity to be 2300-2600 tpa with China, Korea, USA and Europe leading the way, respectively.
Graphene players can learn from the carbon nanotube industry. In addition, a persistent challenge with CNTs was that they were difficult to disperse due to the bundling of the nanotubes. Early stage results suggest that graphene is easier to disperse, especially if the surface is not fully flat as the tendency to re-stack is reduced. This is an opportunity to differentiate.
Graphene can also be produced in film form (e.g., CVD graphene). This targets a separate set of markets such as transparent conductive films, although here the competition is stiff both from the incumbent solution (ITO) and better-performing alternatives. Given graphene's mediocre performance, we do not envisage a role other than in niche corners of the increasingly fragmented touch screen market.
While it is too early to definitively state, sparse early indications suggest that graphene may pose a lower health and safety risk than carbon nanotubes. There is still a mountain of work still to be done, but if proven, this will reduce the liability asymmetry from which users suffer and will accelerate uptake.
Graphene also appears to be better at bestowing a range of functionalities simultaneously to its host material. This ability to go multi-functional will also be a differentiator, mostly against long-term and entrenched incumbents such as graphite powders and carbon black.
2015 and onwards
Today there is no single graphene cost on the market as it varies depending on graphene quality and also supplier. In general, however, average prices will fall. 2015 will see product uptake in many niche but somewhat symbol sectors. Here, graphene will be used as an additive in composites and (in longer term) energy storage devices. We project that the market at the material level will grow from $20m in 2014 to close to $400m in 2024.
Graphene Markets, Technologies and Opportunities 2014-2024
IDTechEx Research has been independently tracking the graphene and carbon nanotube markets for several years. The IDTechEx Research report Graphene Markets, Technologies and Opportunities 2014-2024 delivers the following:
1- Ten year market projections split by application
2- Investment, revenue and capacity by supplier
3- Business intelligence and interview-based company profile on more than 30 suppliers and users
4- Assessment of manufacturing technologies
5- Application pipeline and application assessment
6- Market insights