How big is the graphene market going to be?
Hard to tell in the long-term, but in the short-term some estimates reckon that today’s US$85mln market will be worth over US$1bn within three years.
That’s more than a tenfold increase in less time than it takes to permit some mines, and certainly less time than it takes overall to find, develop and construct a graphite producing operation, never mind putting the plant together to turn it into graphene afterwards.
So, who’s going to meet this increased demand?
Well, one company is extremely well positioned. Tirupati Graphite PLC (LON:TGR) is one of the few companies anywhere in the world that boasts a vertically integrated offering that runs right through from mining graphite in Madagascar, all the way up the processing spectrum to producing graphene in India.
The company recently announced progress on more than one front with regard to its graphene capabilities.
First, the local government in Odisha has allotted land for the expansion of Tirupati’s graphene facilities.
But, perhaps more significantly for the future of the sector, the company has succeed in reducing the size of the graphene nanoparticles that it’s capable of producing. This in turns means that the graphene particles will bond more effectively inside the various mixes that they are put into, and that the overall usage will be more efficient.
The size specification that Tirupati has managed to go down to is a mere 10 nanometres, which is fairly unique in the industry.
“I have never heard of any other manufacturers working to these specifications,” says Shishir Poddar, chief executive of Tirupati Graphite.
“If you are making a graphene paint, the particles are smaller, which means the graphene disperses better in the solution.”
But it’s not just paint that the new small size works well in.
“It will also go in various composites of polymers and metals,” says Poddar.
So, that’s one tick in the box.
A second one comes in regard to the nature of the process itself.
Every graphene manufacturer uses a chemical process, except one – Tirupati. And, in a world that’s ever more conscious of environmental and social responsibility that could prove to be a crucial differentiating factor.
“We use a zero chemical process,” says Poddar. “There’s no footprint of other contaminants in our graphene.”
It all adds up to a compelling proposition, that will allow Tirupati to create value in the highest end areas of the graphene market.
And in order to help it maintain that first-move advantage, Tirupati has been appointing some key personnel, most recently Dr Matthieu Gresil, a leading researcher and renowned expert on polymers and composites.
"To further strengthen our expertise and widen our reach in the world of composites, we are very excited to welcome Dr Gresil to the Tirupati team,” says Poddar.
“As a recognised world-leading expert in the world of composites, nanomaterials and developer of graphene enhanced polymers and composites, we look forward to leveraging his extensive expertise, prominence and access to companies and developers globally. We are confident that he will help us build a robust commercial client base across various industries that use advanced polymers and composites including aerospace, defence, biomedical and sporting equipment.”
How long will it be before Tirupati’s commercial and bulk-scale graphene production capabilities actually come on stream? That’s an open question for now, but don’t expect it to be too long.
In the meantime, the production expansion at the other end of the value chain, at the company’s mining operations in Madagascar, continues to go well. Poddar expects the new plant to be operational in the next quarter.
And the market too, seems to be in an upbeat mood. Since listing back in December, Tirupati’s shares have risen from 50p to their current price of over 80p, a stand-up 60% gain over a matter of weeks. It’s good going, but one gets the feeling the best is yet to come.