When it comes to the applications of graphene, the surface has only just been scratched. First Graphene is one of those developing the material for industrial uses, with implications for the fastener, tool and related industries…
After First Graphene Limited pioneered a world‐first process to produce wonder material graphene at high volume and consistent quality, the company has focused on a broad range of industrial applications. Graphene has the potential for use in coatings, composites and concretes and qualities that are bound to widen the eyes of those in the fastener and fixings business, including corrosion resistance and anti‐vibration properties, as well as considerable advantages in lubrication and the extension of wear life. It seems highly likely graphene will come to play a bigger part in the industry, across many sectors.
WHAT IS GRAPHENE?
Graphene is the thinnest material ever isolated. It consists of single layers of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal network, and this unique structure gives rise to a range of outstanding physical properties, including:
- Strength > 200 times stronger than steel at the same thickness
- Flexibility > Can stretch up to an additional 20% of its length
- Barrier > Completely impermeable, even to helium gas
- Electrical conductivity > More than 1 million times more conductive than copper
- Thermal conductivity > Up to 5,000W/mK (watts per metre‐kelvin) in all directions, compared to around 400W/mK for copper
- Highly transparent > Due to its single layer properties, graphene only absorbs about 2.3 per cent of visible light
With such properties, graphene can be a highly valuable additive to enhance a broad range of materials.
Graphene was first isolated in 2004 by scientists at the University of Manchester, however production of commercial volumes was hampered for many years due to difficulties in producing consistent size product.
That was until First Graphene Limited developed a proprietary process, using high purity graphite, that enabled precise control over production quality. The company markets a range of products for various applications under the PureGRAPH® brand.
Another key challenge for graphene manufacturers is how to adequately disperse graphene through various materials. First Graphene has carried out extensive research and development to devise various methods and now provide Pure‐GRAPH® in a range of formats including powders and pastes, as well as a newly released pelletised masterbatch product specifically for use in thermoplastics.
The company has the capability to produce 100 tonnes of its graphene products a year from a manufacturing facility in Western Australia, and has the capability to quickly scale up as demand increases.
Initially, the focus of graphene research was centred on high‐tech applications such as precision electronics and the aerospace industry. However, with the ability to manufacture consistent quality product at volume, First Graphene has shifted its focus to a broad range of industrial applications including:
- Anti-corrosion for steel and aluminium
- Fire retardant coatings
- Low friction coatings
- Anti-static and electrical conductive coatings
- Wear resistant coatings
- Weathering resistance
- EMI shielding
- Wear linings in mining
- Specialist footwear
- Abrasive resistant PU wear products
- Rubber mats
- Conveyor belting
- Pipe linings
- Miscellaneous wear components
- Swimming pools
- Construction parts
- Automotive parts
- Aeronautical applications
- Wind turbines (blades and components)
- Cement production – in particular for lower clinker factor cements and products
- Concrete products such as blocks, tiles, pavers
- Bagged cement products such as grouts, mortars, renders, flooring screeds, repair compounds
Due to its impermeability, graphene offers exceptional benefits for anti‐corrosion and as a general protective barrier. In some cases, graphene enhanced coatings such as paints and lubricants are used, while in others the graphene is dispersed into resins.
First Graphene already works with end‐user customers that manufacture a range of fire‐retardant paints, PPE, swimming pools and boats, while advanced R&D is underway to manufacture wind turbine blades, linings for pipes and a range of other multi‐application paints and similar coatings.
To date, First Graphene customers have focused on overcoming vibration issues by focusing on the tensile and flexural strength of graphene‐enhanced components.
Reduction of weight is another key outcome of incorporating graphene into a range of materials, and many of the key benefits can be realised with very small additions of PureGRAPH®. As an example, swimming pool manufacturer Aqua Leisure Technologies recently released its PureGRAPH® enhanced range of Graphene Nano‐Tech pools which the company says are 30 per cent lighter, 30% stronger and significantly more resistant to water and chemical permeability.
Graphene also has highly effective, non‐toxic fire‐retardant properties, a pertinent topic following tragedies like that of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. Efforts to lower risks associated with fire include coating materials with fire‐retardant agents. Unfortunately, the agents available to date have drawbacks:
- Toxicity to the environment – especially in soil and water
- Toxicity to people – which may include mutagenic and carcinogenic effects
- Limited effectiveness
First Graphene partnered with a team at the University of Adelaide in South Australia to find an environmentally friendly and more effective fire‐retardant solution. The result was a coating formulation, based on Pure‐GRAPH® graphene products, which is now branded as FireStop™. This is a graphene paint which was developed specifically for the protection of timber and can be sprayed or brushed on to surfaces.
PureGRAPH® can also enhance fire retardant composites when used as an additive. Scientific studies have shown that graphene additives operate in a unique way, acting as an effective gas barrier and transporting heat away from the flame, slowing initial burning and preventing re‐ignition.
Graphene is synergistic and can be used to enhance existing fire retardancy packages in coatings, resins and foams. This means that graphene flame retardants can act alone or add further performance to existing materials, including FRP composites.
Considerable research has shown graphene to be an exceptional dry lubricant as well as a highly beneficial additive to oil and grease. There are several reasons for this:
- As an atoms-thick material, graphene enters friction-prone areas easily
- Due to its thermal conductivity, graphene is not impacted by temperature variations
- As a carbon-based material, graphene disperses easily and evenly in oil, grease and similar lubricants
The benefits of graphene across common industrial applications are only starting to be realised and understood, however there is evidence across current uses to indicate a range of potential benefits for the fastener and fixing industries. This includes:
- Enhanced wear life
- Increased tensile and flexural strength
- Reduced weight
- Superior electrical and thermal conductivity
- Better performance under temperature variations
First Graphene welcomes inquiries from industry and investors. In the first instance, anyone interested can check contact details on the website at firstgraphene.net/contact or email via firstname.lastname@example.org