by Jared Senseman, editor in chief
During the great gold rush of 1849, it wasn’t the gold-diggers raking in the profits.
It was the guy selling shovels.
David Brereton is president and lead engineer of Proven Graphene Solutions (PGS,) a powdered graphene manufacturer based in Portland, Oregon. The company supplies graphene for other businesses to experiment with and to try and implement into new products, with many businesses hoping to strike it rich with the next new graphene-infused invention.
“Graphene itself doesn’t do anything until it’s put into materials or onto something,” Brereton Said. “The whole point is we would like to get our material out there for companies trying to implement it into their product to enhance or improve them, and without that there’s no sales.”
“If it’s cost effective and it makes their product better, then they’ll become the lead in that market, so there’s a competitive advantage for them to be using our product,” he added.
Statistics show he’s right. A recent study by Grand View Research, Inc. shows that the graphene market demand could reach 1,231 tons by 2022. While that number doesn’t sound too remarkable, keep in mind that one gram of graphene is enough to cover an entire football field.
Graphene production companies like PGS are cropping up all over the world to try and meet demand, leaving an unregulated market that’s reminiscent of the wild west. Companies can create graphene of any quality and sell it online.
“How do you know what you’re buying when you get it?” Brereton said. “This is the problem with the market, there’s no standardization of value or qualities. Your average consumer isn’t going to buy this material and then spend the money to have it tested for quality.”
This is where PGS sets itself apart from other graphene companies. Each batch is tested for quality and potential improvement, with results posted on their website.
“As we create this stuff, we have it tested at the university in British Columbia, and we modify our production and improve it. So the further we go, we’ll have different grades of quality. This is where we’re trying to set the stage, and become the standard,” he said.
However, effectively testing graphene quality has proven to be somewhat troublesome as well. Many labs are essentially using old technology to try and test a new material, which doesn’t always pan out.
“We’re trying to prove what we are against other companies, and we’re finding out the ‘experts’ are not experts,” Brereton said. “Today, we’re using micron telescopes and refractive infrared lights. We reflect it off of this graphene material, and we’re trying to get some kind of standard to measure its qualities. I think in the future there will be some kind of dedicated machine made to verify its quality once it’s been created, but that machine hasn’t been made yet.”
Brandon Toth, the Head of Sales for PGS, said the lack of quality assurance within the industry has lead to a multitude of complications, with the customer often feeling the final effects.
“It’s the blending of graphene into the material to spread it evenly that’s the challenge,” Toth said. “There’s all kinds of problems you can run into with the other materials that are out there; if it’s not dispersing properly, if it’s clumping up, or it’s not binding properly. Our material has a great dispersion rate and a built-in binder. One of the things that companies don’t mention when they talk price is the cost of the binder, which is often sold separately.”
Toth added that while they believe they’ve cracked the key to quality graphene, and the ability to produce it en masse, demand still plays a vital role in the future of their business.
“Really it’s about the adoption of the companies we’re trying to work for and their speed, that’s going to limit us now,” he said. “We believe we’ve made that jump to quality, and mass manufacturing and price that everybody is looking for.”
While the necessity for product demand is ever-present for companies like PGS, they’ve already had buyers purchasing graphene for a wide array of reasons. They also have a long list of ideas for their own future products to offer.
“Before we got started and realized what we had, everyone said commercialization was at least 5 to 10 years off,” he said. “With our material, we believe it can happen much quicker, not to mention we have a wider variety of products it could be added to.”
“Imagine planes that could survive crashes, radiation protection, rebuilding infrastructure, you could add it to almost anything to increase the properties of it. Stronger concrete in buildings, saving energy that could be stored longer, recharging energy faster, it’s almost limitless in its potential.”
“Imagine the effects it could have on car parts, braking systems,” Brereton added. “We’ve looked at heating elements that you could make a paint out of, you put the paint on the wall and produce heat in the room. Now, these are all experimentations, but the possibilities are endless.”
In fact, PGS actually started two years ago when Brereton was looking to enhance one of his other projects, and stumbled upon graphene while trying to make some adjustments.
“I needed to create a Faraday cage for a project I was working on at the time,” he said. “So we looked to solutions to that and thought graphene might work, so I found out how to make it. The initial formula wasn’t good enough so I modified it, and that’s when we came up with our powder.”
Two years later, the company is running a transactional website, taking orders and sending out free samples to a wide range of companies. PGS is doing all this while trying to manage growth as efficiently as possible and keeping room for future expansion into other areas.
“This is like the new gold rush, people don’t know where it’s going to apply yet,” Brereton said. “It’s pretty exciting but it’s quite stressful too, because you have to answer so many questions like, how much does it cost to make, where’s it going to go, how do you go global instantly, etc.”
Whether it’s selling gold-pans to miners, or graphene to entrepreneurs, it’s companies like PGS that are always around to supply the demand of the most recent boom.
Graphene Entrepreneur is a division of the National Graphene Association. The Mission of the NGA is to bring together current and future graphene stakeholders — entrepreneurs, companies, researchers, developers and suppliers, investors, venture capitalists and government agencies — to drive innovation, and to promote and facilitate the commercialization of graphene products and technologies in the United States.
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