Commercializing graphene solutions for composites and batteries
At IDTechEx we have invited a number of leading players in the graphene industry to write opinion pieces, reflecting on their products, latest research, market insight, and commercialisation experience. We will be releasing these articles over the next few weeks.
This article is by Dr Angelos Kyrlidis Principal Scientist and Project Manager at Cabot Corporation, leading supplier of speciality carbon blacks worldwide. Cabot has an attractive programme and here Dr Kyrlidis shares some market insights with us.
To learn more about the industry, please refer to our report Graphene and 2D Materials: Markets, Technologies, and Opportunities 2015-2025
Graphenes and graphene-like materials make up a new family of carbon materials derived from the pristine, single layer of graphite. Cabot Corporation has a long history in carbon materials, and has been in the business of producing carbon black for over 130 years. Carbon black is commonly used to deliver various functions in many important applications: reinforcement in tires, electrical conductivity in batteries and plastics that are used in applications ranging from electrostatic dissipation to wire and cable, and color in various coatings ranging from automotive to the black matrix in the color filters of displays. With the likely exception of color (the thinner the graphenes, the more transparent they are), these are applications where graphenes can potentially deliver performance at a fraction of the loading of carbon black that is usually required. This in turn has its advantages as the graphene-containing composites can be lighter, preserve their mechanical properties, and also deliver some of the other functions that this wonder material can bring, such as thermal conductivity or barrier properties.
Mapping into applications needs
Cabot has invested in the development of technologies for the production and use of graphenes by establishing a team that is focused on leveraging the company's experience in carbon materials to deliver graphene solutions that can break trade-offs for our customers and deliver unique performance. For the last four years we have evaluated many production routes (from top-down to bottom-up) (see Figure 1). Through in-house development and external collaborations, we have selected production routes that produce materials with unique morphologies and properties that map into the application needs of our customers. We are in the process of planning the next scale of production for these materials to allow our customers to take advantage of these performance benefits commercially.
Figure 1. Morphology map of graphenes produced by major process routes.
Leverage existing customer base
Given Cabot's expertise in existing markets for carbon-based additives, our development work has focused on classes of applications where we have existing customers and a keen understanding of problems customers are facing. For example, in polymer composites there are many applications where graphenes can deliver valuable performance at very low loadings. We are working with leading companies to solve some of their toughest problems with our graphene-containing compounds and masterbatches. In elastomers we are finding that graphenes can increase modulus at a fraction of the loading of carbon black and thus can break important performance trade-offs offering our customers breakthrough product improvement and enable new applications. In plastics, graphene-oxide derived graphenes (see Figure 2) can deliver electrical conductivity at very low loadings and meet thermal stability, mechanical, and cleanliness requirements.
Figure 2. Graphene-oxide derived graphenes
Good customer feedback in batteries
In energy storage we are currently focused on Li-ion and Pb-acid batteries as our first target markets. In Li-ion batteries we are working with several leading battery producers to develop graphene-based dispersions that can deliver the long range conductivity that is needed to develop thicker electrodes with increased capacity. The morphology of graphenes allows for a formulation of low viscosity electrode pastes with good capacity. In Pb-acid batteries our materials enable reductions in system costs for various applications. We are excited by the customer feedback we are receiving and look forward to delivering our graphenes to these markets in dispersions and pastes which are easy to handle and apply.
In parallel, we are always on the lookout for new developments in technology and new application opportunities. We are committed to commercializing these materials and invite our customers to connect with us so that we can discuss how our materials and our competencies can solve their most challenging problems.