Graphene promises to offer excellent material properties in almost all applications. Its extraordinary performance has led many to call it a wonder material; however, the reality is different, according to a new report published by IDTechEx (Graphene: Analysis of Technology, Markets and Players 2013-2018).
In short, the report forecasts a $100 million market for graphene in 2018, but there is more to the story. There are many different types of graphene, each offering a different set of properties. The differentiating parameters include the number of layers, purity, oxygen content, crystallinity and form (powder or sheet). Depending on the specifics of these parameters, the quality of the so-called graphene can vary, from that of the ideal material towards that of graphite oxide.
Each graphene type is manufactured using a different technique and all techniques differ in terms of their cost structure, volume production capability and, ultimately, potential target markets. The manufacturing techniques include micro-cleavage, chemical vapor deposition, liquid-phase exfoliation, oxidization-reduction and plasma.
The main market driver so far has been the R&D sector. The industry is now gearing up to move beyond research activities and a diverse range of other applications are actively being developed. These include RFID, smart packaging, supercapacitors, composites, ITO replacement, sensors, logic and memory.
In many cases, the main go-to-market strategy for graphene would be replacing an existing component in an existing product. Depending on the target market, the incumbent or rival materials could be carbon black, carbon fibre, graphite, carbon nanotubes, silver nanowires, ITO, silver flakes, copper nanoparticles, aluminium, silicon, GaAs, ZnO, etc.
The strength of graphene’s value proposition is different for each target market. In many cases, graphene enables performance premiums, giving space for premium pricing. Cost will however remain critical. This is because ultimately graphene’s value proposition can often only be defined against the incumbent material option.
IDTechEx finds that composites and energy storage applications will be the largest near-term market opportunity for graphene beyond R&D. The composite space is broad and diverse. IDTechEx also expect that graphene will first penetrate markets that have low cost sensitivity but demand high performance. In the energy storage space, graphene will first be used in supercapacitor devices, mainly due to its high surface-to-volume ratio.
IDTechEx forecasts that graphene will have limited success in the transparent conductor market because it falls short both on cost and performance compared to incumbent and alternative options. Market success will be limited in the transistor area, both in analog and digital applications. This is partly due to a lack of bandgap and the high level of standards set by incumbent solutions.
Information in the report was prepared by Dr. Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, head of consulting for IDTechEx.