Interview with Sean Christiansen, Garmor's VP of engineering

Garmor announced a few days ago that it will begin to start producing graphene oxide flakes next month using its low-cost environmentally-friendly production process. Sean Christiansen, Garmor's VP of engineering has been kind enough to answer a few question regarding the company's business and technology.

Dr. Christiansen received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2001. Since then he worked in several companies, helping them to commercialize new innovations in high technology industries.

Q: Garmor will soon start producing graphene-oxide nano flakes (I'll refer to these as GONF). Can you tell us more about your production process?

Garmor relies on a mechanochemical process to produce GONF using common reactants and graphite. The process produces only GONF and water thereby offering an inexpensive, high quality, environmentally-friendly, and scalable route to graphene oxide production. From a commercialization standpoint, the process uses established manufacturing methods that result in substantial cost benefits to our customers. In addition, the process yields ready to ship GONF in only a few hours thereby permitting the manufacturing process to achieve substantial production volumes.

Q: Can you tell us more about the material itself? What properties does it have?

Garmor’s process produces GONF primarily oxidized at the edges of the flakes. This partially oxidized material retains much of the electrical conductivity of graphite due to the undisturbed sp2 orbitals on the surface of the flake. The GONFs are also hydrophilic and fully dispersible in water and can be deposited by electro-plating, spin casting or other techniques to produce thin films. We are also able to tailor the oxidation level of the GONF which offers a unique advantage for functionalization and specific applications. Multiple partners are currently evaluating the material in a variety of applications and we have identified applications where our edge-functionalized GONF delivers superior performance compared to a GONF produced using Hummers method.

Q: What kind of applications do you target initially? I understand you focus mostly on the mechanical-properties of graphene (strength, low-weight, etc) and enabling graphene composites?

Garmor is able to deliver GONF at substantially lower prices required by commodity-type markets which need large volumes of GONF. These markets include composite, lubricants, and EMI shielding markets as well as emerging markets believed to be too difficult to penetrate due to the high cost of graphene oxide. Garmor is delivering qualification lots to companies that have an interest in establishing strategic relationships in high manufacturing, distribution or sales.

Q: Is it possible to reduce the GONFs to graphene nanoflakes?

Yes, we have identified thermal, chemical, and electrochemical routes to converting our oxidized material to a reduced form thereby producing graphene nanoflakes. We will be integrating these approaches into our existing process.

Q: There are several companies that already offer GNFs. What is your unique proposition?

Garmor delivers graphene oxide flakes that are of high quality and lower cost relative to others in the field. This is achieved through a simple manufacturing method that requires no hazardous waste disposal allowing our technology to scale with the cost of the graphite. As our material is edge functionalized, it is more readily reduced. The reduced material has a pristine surface with no residual oxidation, corrugation or damaged sp2 orbitals and as such retains graphene's highly prized electrical, thermal and mechanical properties.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your production facility?

Our initial production facility is 10,000 ft2 and will have an initial capacity of 100 metric tons per year. Our goal is to transition our customers to high volume manufacturing partners as their requirements exceed the 100 metric ton level. We believe that the 100 metric ton level is sufficient to enable our customers to validate volume qualification runs with our GONF and then transitioning them to the volume manufacturer.

Q: We know you are funded by a $300,000 loan from the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research’s Seed Capital Accelerator Program. I'm guessing you will need more funds? Or have you already raised more money?

Garmor closed a Series A round in 2012 and a portion of this round was matched by the maximum amount allowed by the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research’s Seed Capital Accelerator Program. We have initiated discussion with investors for our Series B round that is expected to close in the summer of 2014.

Q: How do you see the graphene market within 3-5 years? Where will it make the most impact in the short term?

Tremendous advances are being made around the world using GNFs and GONFs. We expect Garmor to be one of the first companies to deliver GONF for large-scale commercial applications due to our low price point and high production volumes. We have witnessed firsthand that certain industries are motivated to move quickly to transition from research to production. The speed of this will depend on the market application.

Thank you Sean, for your time and answers. I wish both you and Garmor good luck!

Posted: Jul 16,2013 by Ron Mertens