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The Industrial Dimension of Graphene

Graphenest is a company devoted to producing high-quality graphene products for the burgeoning market. The NWA spoke with Dr. Bruno Figueiredo, Graphenest’s COO, about their products and the emerging industry of graphene.

Graphene was once touted as a wonder-material. The promises of this material extended to all fields of manufacturing, where, proponents avered, supply lines would be revolutionized by the inclusion of graphene in their products. This vision of graphene’s widespread applicability was, in some ways, myopic, as the hype behind graphene was unable to match up to the availability at that time. However, as the fundamentals of graphene have become better understood by scientists their reach into industry has extended. There are a variety of companies now producing high-quality graphene, one of which is Graphenest.

Graphenest was founded in 2015 by “three simple guys from the countryside of Portugal''. These three guys developed a system for producing graphene from graphite based on a liquid-phase exfoliation. “We can use propanone and ethanol as well as water as a medium. We use these solvents to disperse natural graphite which is the other raw material. Then we use ultrasonic cavitation and high-shear mixing on a specific design for a certain period of time with a certain frequency and with a certain power density, and that's the secret sauce here, so we can control the variables to get the most out of it.”

Graphenest was spurned to develop such a technique by seeking out dual-use technologies, those which had both civil and military capabilities. This technique has proved scalable, with Graphenest’s production rising from “60kg per year in 2018, and in late 2019 we were able to produce more than one ton and a half per year,” a factor of 25. This system is increasingly scalable, as the production methods are modular.

Graphenest holds a patent for the method of graphene production, and is most interested in becoming like Tetra-Pak. “They don't sell the package, they sell the machine to produce the package. They deploy the machine in your facilities and then you produce your own packaging. So we would like to do exactly the same.” This is because graphene is very low-density, rendering shipping an expensive enterprise, and with graphite globally available, there’s no reason anyone couldn’t produce customized graphene with the Graphenest system.

Graphenest’s clients come from “different markets, from aerospace and defense, automotive, even the medical industry. If we narrow our clients, most of them are looking for shielding, or conductive paints and conductive parts, that can be used for electromagnetic shielding.” There’s also a contingent of interest from “people who are interested in using our material to increase the thermal conductivity of parts such as CPUs, heat sinks, or other components that should be able to dissipate heat.” Clients seek a range of different properties from graphene, and Graphenest is able to provide custom products.

There are a wide range of clients seeking such custom products but Dr. Figueiredo is bound to relative secrecy. “We cannot disclose too much, in the past we were doing different stuff with Sony, we have a good collaboration with Yazaki-Saltano which is the Portuguese representation of the wiring harnesses manufacturer from Japan.” These are some of the companies who Graphenest has worked with, and despite their relative opulence Dr. Figueiredo remains humble. “Even the United States Airforce” has worked with Graphenest, a company of four people.

Vítor Abrantes (presidente), Bruno Figueiredo (responsável científico) e Rui Silva (responsável técnico)

While Dr. Figueiredo doesn’t think there’s necessarily an onus on researchers to enter industry, he does believe that “the industrial side is important because you need to innovate. People in the research side tend to be more lagging. In the industry side, people are more passionate about what they do and they tend to implement their solution in the market so people use it. In universities, in research institutions, most of the time you don't need to worry about implementing these things in real life.”

When asked what those seeking to commercialize a discovery need to do most, he says: “first of all they need, fundamentally, the best person or group of people to market that. You need to find someone who is passionate about what you do, and be exactly on the same wavelength researching.” Next, “you need to convince that research institute or that university, or, if you already have a solution with a high readiness level, you can talk to an industry player.”

There are numerous projects and initiatives which Dr. Figueiredo lists as being “of interest” to himself and Graphenest more generally. However, the next steps for the company are fairly straightforward. “We are going to look at different applications, apart from shielding and apart from mechanical reinforcement. We'd like to look at thermal interface materials to take the most out of the thermal conductivity of graphene.”

By Jack Seaberry, NWA


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