Montreal-based graphene producer and developer Group NanoXplore recently announced some interesting and promising developments. We discuss the company's recent advances with the company's CEO and President, Dr. Soroush Nazarpour.
Hello Dr. Soroush. We know NanoXplore as a graphene producer but recently we hear that the company has been bringing graphene to the plastic industry. Why have you chosen to focus on this market?
NanoXplore is manufacturing graphene-enhanced polymers in response to the customer need for plastics with better electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties. Results from compounding NanoXplore’s graphene with Polyethylene, for example, have shown 10 orders of magnitude increase in electrical conductivity, 5 orders increase in thermal conductivity and a 30% increase in mechanical yield strength.
In 2015, we established a 400 tonne/year graphene-thermoplastic pellet compounding facility and this year we added a 22000 sq. ft plastic injection and blow molding facility, including mold design and fabrication. This enables us to supply OEMs with final plastic products benefiting from graphene; we are actively working with several OEMs to become a certified supplier. All of this work is based upon our graphene expertise, in particular our ability to manufacture industrial quantities of high quality graphene.
Q: There are several different types of additives for plastics such as carbon black and carbon nanotube. How does NanoXplore's graphene differ from these additives in plastics?
Our high quality graphene provides much higher performance improvements to thermoplastics in comparison with carbon black and does not have the same processing difficulties as carbon nanotubes and many other nano-additives. All of this at price points that make sense to customers. Thermoplastics already provide an excellent combination of light weight, high strength, and low processing costs making them the best choice for replacing metals in the broadest range of components and applications. Adding graphene to thermoplastics significantly improves the resin properties across a very wide range of performance dimensions, while retaining low cost processing using industry standard methods.
To further ease adoption, NanoXplore not only offers plastic master batches, we can also provide customers with molded plastic products and components. This is very attractive to OEMs as we can significantly shorten product development and launch times. Furthermore, through one of our partners in Europe, we have developed additives that allow a full range of colors for graphene-enhanced plastic products.
Q: NanoXplore is mentioned in the Graphene-Info Battery Report as developing graphene-Si anode technology for Li-ion batteries. Can you update us on your progress in this area?
We have several battery development projects underway, and results to date have been very encouraging. Some of the projects aim to provide evolutionary improvements to anode materials which we hope to commercialize in the next 24 months.
There are concerns about the energy capacity and availability of spherical graphite for the growing demand in the electric transportation market. Silicon is a low cost substitute and is abundant in earth and represents 10 times higher capacity per gram in comparison with spherical graphite. However, it undergoes a large physical expansion when intercalated with lithium, so called breathing effect. Our proprietary graphite-graphene material wraps around silicon particles and slow down the breathing effect. This prevents deterioration of anode and increases anode cycle life dramatically.
Furthermore we are actively working on Lithium-Sulphur batteries. Addition of graphene enhances the electrical conductivity of the cathode and tailors the formation of parasitic sulphur phases in order to prevent sulphur deficiency upon repeated cycling. This has a significant impact on the performance of the batteries and we hope to see this technology in the market in the next 5 years.
Q: What do you see as the single biggest challenge for the graphene industry over the next 3 years?
The graphene industry has entered into a period of shake out and consolidation. Customers are beginning to see the value of graphene and are on the verge of committing to large scale deployment of graphene enhanced products. Several things are holding them back however, including a lack of standards, poor batch to batch consistency from suppliers, incoherent pricing signals from the marketplace and the lack of successful products to point to as references.
All of these challenges will be overcome but it will take time. The mission for graphene companies in the meantime is to focus on providing added value to niche markets, by providing innovative new products at little or no additional cost, without imposing new capital costs to customers. Not an easy challenge but the potential rewards are great for companies with strong technology and a clear business vision.
Thank you Soroush, and good luck to both you and NanoXplore!