The global graphene market is soaring and set to surpass $US1 billion by 2023 thanks to its many uses.

The graphene industry rocketed from $US85m ($117.3m) in 2017 to $US200m this year — marking a 135 per cent increase.

The so-called “wonder material” found “massive” applications in fields like anticorrosive paint and energy storage over the past two years, says.

In its pure form, graphene is an atom thin sheet of carbon, noted for its incredible strength and conductivity. The material is now used in electronics, sensors, aircraft, green tech solutions, industrial robotics and sporting equipment – possibly even wallpaper that can generate electricity.

Chinese researchers have even found a use for it in protecting ancient wall paintings.

The University of Manchester says graphene is a disruptive technology — one that could open up new markets and even replace existing technologies or materials.

According to the university, “combining all of graphene’s amazing properties could create an impact of the scale last seen with the Industrial Revolution”.

Two professors at the University of Manchester discovered the material in 2004 during a “Friday night experiment” session when they used sticky tape to separate graphite fragments to create graphene flakes one atom thick.

They were later awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics.

Graphene is 1 million times smaller than the diameter of a single hair, yet it is many times stronger than steel and still lightweight and flexible.

Great for making EVs go further 

It is quickly gaining acclaim as another potential solution to increasing the range of electric vehicles (EVs).

Canadian graphene player Elcora Advanced Materials is developing a graphene-infused lithium-ion battery electrode.

Batteries are made up of an anode (positive) electrode and a cathode (negative) electrode and the electrical current flows between the two.

Graphene would be used as a conductivity promoter instead of carbon black, along with a make-up of 70-99 per cent graphite and 1-30 per cent silicon.

Silicon improves energy storage by increasing the amount of lithium that the graphite in the anode absorbs.

“All lithium-ion battery manufacturers are trying to increase energy density,” says Shane Beattie, chief technology officer for Elcora Advanced Materials.

“More energy density means longer drive time and fewer ‘fill-ups’ for electric vehicles.

“Similarly, higher energy density could decrease the number of batteries needed to go a certain distance, making an electric vehicle lighter and less expensive.”

Spanish battery developer Grabat Energy has demonstrated graphene batteries that can increase the range of electric vehicles to 800km – double the range of Tesla cars and three times the range of Nissan and Renault models.

These graphene batteries are 20 to 30 per cent smaller and can be charged in just five minutes.

Development of graphene-based energy storage has been under way for several years — though large-scale production has proven problematic.

The issue with graphene is that it has a relatively short shelf life and needs to be used within weeks otherwise it reverts back to its graphite form.

This makes it difficult for graphene players to produce, have it qualified by an independent party and then shipped to a battery maker.

But Elcora says it can make high-quality graphene on-demand, which is then immediately used in electrode slurries.

This allows it to retain its high conductivity, capacity and power properties.

ASX stocks dabbling in graphene

While there are quite a few ASX-listed graphite players, not all of them are aiming to be graphene producers.

Archer Exploration (ASX:AXE) is working on disease-detecting graphene biosensors after partnering with an unnamed leading German biotech company.

The global biosensor market is expected to grow to $US27 billion by 2021.

In August, Talga Resources (ASX:TLG) did a deal with Swedish packaging heavyweight BillerudKorsnäs to explore the possibility of using its graphene in packaging.

Graphene can be used to coat paper and cardboard to stop gas and liquid from escaping and make it stronger. And it has an antibacterial effect, so it can be used in food packaging.

“BillerudKorsnäs are behind a project called the Paper Bottle project, which is a world first attempt to get a paper package that can hold carbonated drinks, which hasn’t been done before,” Talga boss Mark Thompson told Stockhead at the time the deal was announced.

“That obviously needs special aspects of strength and keeping the material inside the paper. So you need very good barrier coatings and graphene can play a role in things like that.”

The global packaging market is worth about $350 billion and growing steadily thanks partly to demand from online retailers.

Talga is also working on making concrete that can conduct electricity so electric cars can charge on the road.

Concrete is the world’s largest construction material by volume and worth roughly $US450 billion annually at the moment.

First Graphene (ASX:FGR) has identified several market opportunities for its PureGRAPH™ products — the latest of which is improving the protective polymer linings of critical mining equipment.

The company’s graphene has shown it can extend the wear-life of a full-scale mining reclaimer bucket when incorporated into protective polymer linings.

First Graphene has also struck up two new relationships which it hopes will lead to ongoing sales.

The first is with, FlexeGRAPH, a company using nanotechnology to improve the efficiency of cooling and heat transfer fluids – a $3 billion market in Australia that includes applications such as cooling batteries and high-performance computing and data centres.

The second is with Chemiplas, one of the largest, privately owned suppliers of chemicals, raw materials, ingredients and advanced technologies to the Australasian region.

Hexagon Resources (ASX:HXG), meanwhile, has also proven it can produce graphene from its McIntosh project in Western Australia.