In this interview, Dan Nye, the Chief Strategy Officer at Graphex Group, talks to AZoM about the current trends and opportunities within the graphene industry.
To begin, can you tell us about the current trends in graphene research?
With the unique materials science properties graphene offers, including strength 200x that of steel, transparency, thermal/electrical conductivity, and transparency, researchers are looking at a broad set of potential applications from biomedical and electronics to aerospace. At Graphex Group, our current focus is on graphene applications within lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage solutions.
The lithium-ion battery industry is moving quickly and there are some exciting graphene-related emerging technologies. Graphene as a coating around the battery anode (graphite electrode) is looking promising. Graphene helps prevent the battery electrode from degrading, as most wear in a lithium-ion battery occurs at the electrode surfaces in contact with the lithium electrolyte. Industry experts believe this technology could potentially double battery life, together with a potential 40% increase in power density.
Samsung is researching a related technology called graphene balls. Microscopic spherical structures are created using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to grow a graphene layer around silicon-oxide nanoparticles. The particles are used to cover the lithium-ion cathode (NCA electrode); this suppresses damaging side reactions while providing efficient conductive pathways. Samsung estimates the technology could yield a 5x improvement in charging speed together with a 45% improvement in energy storage capacity, as compared to conventional lithium-ion cells.
Can you also tell us about current trends surrounding both the manufacturing and development of graphene in the graphene industry?
There are two main methods of producing graphene commercially, chemical vapor deposition (CVD) and graphite exfoliation. CVD is a bottom-up approach that creates a single layer of graphene on a substrate. Whilst this produces the highest quality single-layer graphene, it is a more expensive process and outputs in smaller batches. There are also issues with removing graphene from the copper foil substrate that it forms on. The exfoliation approach cleaves graphite into graphene, however, due to harsh chemicals, mechanical stress, and temperatures used to break down the graphite's intermolecular bonds, the process is less controllable. This can result in a product that has a wider distribution of layers from batch to batch and is seen as a lower quality type of graphene.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been researching a promising mass manufacturing technique of production. The process combines a roll-to-roll approach, a common industrial method for continuous processing of thin foils, together with CVD. Whilst the feed rate is still slow, at 5cm per minute, production runs have produced 10-meter lengths of continuous single-layer graphene.
In relation to this, can you give us some examples of how Graphex Group reflects these current trends?
Graphex group is researching, together with its partners, the use of graphene anode coatings. In addition to improving battery degradation, our research indicates that a graphene coating may improve cold-weather performance. Currently, in cold weather lithium ions can unevenly coat the surface of the anode instead of being absorbed by the graphite electrode, a process called lithium plating. This reduces the charge capacity of the battery and creates a low charge rate which can damage the cells. Furthermore, over time the lithium plating may form into dendrites, which can short circuit the battery cell. A graphene coating or the use of graphene-oxide coated nanosheet helps prevent uneven plating, improving overall battery cold-weather performance whilst extending battery life.
How different would you say the graphene industry is compared to five years ago, and what is the role Graphex played in this?
The graphene market is very much still in its nascent stages. Using the United States as a benchmark, the graphene market was valued at $5.1 million in 2016 but is expected to grow to about $50 million by 2024. Due to the complexity of producing large sheets of graphene, current commercial applications typically use less expensive dust-like particles of graphene as an additive. The industrial sector has been an early adopter of graphene additives for lubricants and in waterproof paints for roofing and marine applications.
Graphex Group continues to research applications for graphene whilst protecting and patenting our graphene-related intellectual property. We continue to closely monitor volume graphene manufacturing technologies and will likely be an early adopter when commercial high-volume production equipment comes to market.
What role does graphene play in relation to applications facilitating renewable energy products?
Graphene has a number of potential applications across the renewable energy sector. Within lithium-ion storage batteries, research suggests that graphene can improve battery degradation, energy storage capacity, charging rates, and cold-weather performance.
Solar energy offers particularly interesting potential applications for graphene. Ultrathin solar cells could be produced from sheets of graphene. In addition to weight performance, graphene’s flexibility would allow the cell to confirm around complex shapes, such as vehicle roofs. In addition, there is an emerging technology that uses a layer of graphene on top of a standard solar cell. During rain, the layer of graphene can generate electrical energy from the salt ions in the raindrops. This allows solar cells to generate energy in both sunny and inclement rain conditions.
Can you tell us a bit about spherical and high purity micronized graphite? What are they and how do they differ from one another?
Spherical graphite (SPG), also known as battery-grade graphite, is a crucial component of lithium-ion batteries. Spherical graphite is the material used to make the graphite anode within the cells of an electric vehicles’ lithium-ion battery. A typical electric vehicle requires approximately 70kg spherical graphite, or 1kg per kWh, in addition to about 60kg of lithium and 20 kg of cobalt. Spherical graphite is typically processed from flake graphite by mechanical and chemical processes. The rounded shape of spherical graphite allows for more efficient packaging of particles in a lithium-ion battery anode, which increases the energy and recharge capacity of the battery. Smaller diameter SPG (circa 10 microns) is used for batteries requiring faster charging requirements, whilst larger power requirements may use larger diameter SPG (circa 20 microns). SPG is Graphex Group’s primary product. We produce about 10,000 metric tons per and are in process of expanding capacity to 40,000 tons over the next three years.
High-purity micronized graphite is a byproduct of our spherical graphite production. It is pure (circa 99%) powdered graphite, with a varied shape distribution. It is typically used as an additive for lubricants, in corrosion-resistant coatings, or within welding flux.
What would you say are some of the greatest advantages the graphene sector offers in terms of opportunities?
There are many exciting opportunities and industries which will be impacted by the continued commercialization of graphene. We are most excited about its impact on electric vehicles and within the overall renewable sector. We believe opportunities to use graphene to improve lithium-ion battery performance are both significant and near.
How crucial would you say graphene is in terms of the development of lithium-ion battery cells?
The use of graphene technology will likely have a significant impact on improving the performance of next-generation lithium-ion batteries for both electric vehicles and as a storage solution for renewable energy.
Can you tell us a bit about how Graphex Group Limited encompasses both the graphene-focused Graphex Technologies and the eco-design-focused EDAG?
Graphex Group operates two primary divisions. Our graphene division, representing about 60% of our revenues, produces about 10,000 tons of spherical graphite per annum at its production facility in Heilongjiang Province, China.
In addition, we operate a landscape architecture division (EADG) that provides landscape design for hotels, urban renewal projects, corporate campuses, and theme parks. In one of our recent initiatives, we are working with eight major cities for urban renewal to design ‘Recharge Parks’, which combine stunning landscaped green spaces, with mobile devices and electric vehicle charging points. The parks would be partially powered by onsite renewable energy. The concept is to electrically recharge machines and devices, while mentally recharging the people who use them within an architecturally exquisite urban parkland.
In terms of Graphex itself, can you tell us about the company’s transition from Earth Asia to Graphex Group Limited?
The recent Board approval to change the company’s name from Earthasia International Holdings Limited to Graphex Group Limited is the first of a number of strategic actions to accurately reflect the Company’s focus on graphene research, SPG manufacturing and development and to further capitalize on the opportunities the graphene sector presents. Graphex Group intends to fully leverage its graphene division’s high-volume manufacturing capability and product technology to capitalize on the forecasted growth of electric vehicles and stored energy lithium-ion batteries, in addition to developing future graphene applications.
Where can readers find more information?
Please see our website at: www.graphexgroup.com
About Graphex Group Limited
Graphex Group is a publicly-traded company, listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and the OTCQX Best Market. Its stock trades under symbol 6128 in Hong Kong and ETIHY in the United States. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong. Its graphene divisions’ production facility is located in Heilongjiang Province, strategically near the largest supply source of high-quality natural graphite globally. Graphex Group has been awarded 25 patents covering its products, production methods, machinery design, and environmental control processes. The Company’s spherical graphite is an essential anode material for lithium-ion batteries.
About Dan Nye
Dan Nye serves the Company as its Chief Strategy Officer. Dan has more than 20 years experience, both as a business leader structuring and building robust, cohesive business teams and a value investor employing financial and operational analysis to identify mispriced assets. He has a proven track record of solidifying business direction and operations in line with a singular goal.
Previously, Dan led manufacturing operations for publicly listed semiconductor robotics and automation company, Asyst Technologies, in Silicon Valley. Dan grew his team to support revenue growth from $80 million to $300 million.
Dan worked as a Strategy Consultant with Bain & Company, consulting with private equity clients investing in industrial and technology companies. He led mergers and acquisitions transactions with Robertson Stephens International, specializing in semiconductor and hardware systems businesses. Dan later moved into asset management to focus on managing portfolios of assets for CIM Investment Management.
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