Widely considered to be a wonder material due to its unique properties, graphene is becoming even more popular as more applications are found.

Graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice – is renowned for being up to 200 times stronger than steel and being a highly efficient conductor of both heat and electricity.

It can be added to other materials to make them stronger and more flexible, be used on its own or with other materials for fire retardancy, and also find use in energy storage devices.

“Graphene is particularly useful in man-made products such as polymers, composites and plastics,” First Graphene (ASX:FGR) chairman Warwick Grigor told Stockhead.

“Whereas plastics used to be ‘cheap’, the addition of graphene makes them drastically stronger and in many cases they will perform better than metal instruments.”

Other materials that graphene can be added to include carbon fibre, fibreglass and concrete, with Grigor noting that a potential client had reported 10 per cent cost reductions in making carbon fibre that also happened to be stronger and more flexible.

Major users of graphene include automotive giant Ford, which is already using the material in certain car parts, and China’s Huawei uses graphene to help manage heat in its smartphones.

A 2019 Canaccord UK research report estimated that worldwide graphene sales could grow at a compound annual growth rate of 45 per cent to reach $US4.8bn ($6.7bn) by 2030.

While this growth has been delayed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains a potent signpost to how quickly demand for the material could grow.

Grigor added that while the use of graphene was still new enough that First Graphene had to spend time with potential customers to give them confidence to start incorporating graphene into their materials, demand was expected to escalate rapidly once more people used it.


Australia’s growing contribution to the graphene ecosystem

Despite the accelerating growth in demand for graphene, there are only a handful of companies on the ASX that are actively involved in the graphene sector.

Archer Materials (ASX:AXE) has progressed development of its graphene biosensor technology capable of complex detection of diseases.

In June, it reported that early-stage battery powered portable hardware had been developed to interface with its biosensor technology that circumvents the need for cumbersome instrumentation and allows for point of use application.

The company has also developed a set of new graphene materials that can be directly applied for enhanced biosensing and their processing into biocompatible inks that can be printed using inkjet printers.

Looking ahead, Archer plans to develop commercial prototypes of its in-vitro diagnostic biosensing devices by assembling and testing proprietary graphene-based componentry capable of enabling rapid multi-disease detection and device integration.

The company is also seeking strong patent applications in Australia, the US and the EU while establishing commercial partnerships with highly resourced organisations in the biotechnology industry with existing global distribution channels.

Archer Materials (ASX:AXE) share price chart


Graphene-enhanced advanced materials

Meanwhile, First Graphene continues to develop advanced materials that incorporate graphene produced from graphite using its proprietary and environmentally-sound technology.

The company has already established a commercial graphene production facility for the bulk scale manufacture of graphene at competitive prices.

Recent developments include the successful testing of its PureGRAPH products applied to the production of oyster baskets with South Australian shellfish aquaculture manufacturer, Hexcyl Systems.

The addition of less than 1 per cent of graphene to high-density polyethylene polymer used in manufacturing the baskets resulted in an increase in yield strength of more than 60 per cent, a 10 per cent increase in tensile strength and a greater than 50 per cent reduction in abrasion loss.

This will now move to a larger scale trial in real-world, ocean conditions.

First Graphene is also working to develop a master batch to further improve the robustness and longevity of the Hexcyl range of oyster baskets and adjustable long-line components.

During the June 2020 quarter, the company also executed major sales agreements for large-scale manufacturing of protective face masks and new resin composites for swimming pools.

The first deal covers the supply of at least 1 tonne per annum of PureGRAPH graphene to planarTECH and includes the development of new anti-static coatings, while the latter is for the provision of a minimum 2.5 tonnes of graphene for 20 years.

Grigor told Stockhead the company’s sales growth was strong coming off a limited base.

“There was a four-fold increase in sales in the June quarter compared with the previous March quarter, he explained.

“As we start to deliver into the contracts we will continue to see sales escalate.

“What we really need is for some of the larger customers to commit to orders of 5-10 tonnes per annum, and that will be when everyone sits up and takes notice.”

Grigor added that while supply limitations meant that demand for graphene would currently be measured in the hundreds of tonnes per annum, this could easily escalate to thousands of tonnes per annum over the next five years.

First Graphene (ASX:FGR) share price chart


Graphene batteries and polymer composites

Talga (ASX:TLG) has recently unveiled a ‘fast track pathway’ that simplifies project development and allows the company to progress straight to commercial anode production of 19,000 tonnes per annum, with construction set to start in 2022 followed by production in 2023.

While aimed primarily at producing battery-grade graphite concentrate, the planned facility will also be able to produce Talphene graphene products for battery and polymer composite applications from the anode refinery stream.

In April, the company secured UK co-funding to support development of an e-axle for Bentley Motors under the OCTOPUS project, which seeks to deliver a single unit e-axle solution to meet the luxury car manufacturer’s performance specifications through the use of optimised motor and power electronics technology and materials.

Talga’s role is to develop and provide graphene materials for the high-performance electric motor windings to deliver an aluminium-based solution aimed at outperforming and ultimately replacing the copper windings currently used.

Talga Resources (ASX:TLG) share price chart

At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While Talga is a Stockhead advertiser, it did not sponsor this article.