The graphene market to reach 3,800 tonnes per year in 2026
By Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, head of consulting IDTechExProduction / Materials Engineering graphene
The graphene market is forecast to grow to $220-million in 2026, according to market projections by IDTechEx Research. This represents the material level and does not count the value of graphene-enabled products. In many instances graphene is only an additive with low wt% values.
A continual decline in average sales prices will accompany the revenue growth, meaning that volume sales will reach nearly 3.8k tpa (tonnes per annum) in 2026. Despite this, forecasts by IDTechEx Research show the industry will remain in a state of over-capacity until 2021 beyond which time new capacity will need to be installed. Furthermore, IDTechEx Research forecasts that nearly 90% of the market value will go to graphene platelets (vs. sheets) in 2026.
The market will be segmented across many applications, reflecting the diverse properties of graphene. In general, we expect functional inks and coatings to reach the market earlier. This is a trend that we forecasted several years ago and is now observed in prototypes and small-volume applications. Indeed, IDTechEx Research projects that the market for functional inks and coatings will make up 21% of the market by 2018. Ultimately however, energy storage and composites will grow to be the largest sectors, controlling 25% and 40% of the market respectively in 2026.
Will the industry come out of the red?
Last year IDTechEx Research forecasted that the graphene industry would largely remain in the red and that company valuations would mostly deflate. This is now confirmed by the latest filings and company statements showing that most companies are still operating at substantial losses. The valuations have also tended to decline. This in turn has put some firms off floating on public markets to raise money.
The good news is, however, that the industry is experiencing revenue growth across the board. The research suggests that the industry expects to generate $30m in 2016. IDTechEx estimates that research grants make up at least 50% the overall revenue. This demonstrates the vital role that funding bodies are playing in sustaining an early stage industry.
The objective is to help graphene companies survive the commercialization chasm and outlive the often prolonged qualification periods. The downside however is that the business landscape is now populated with too many weakly-capitalized and poorly-differentiated players that each generate small revenues.
IDTechEx Research finds that the scene is now ripe for a consolidation since the actual market demand will not sustain all. This will benefit the whole industry since it will reduce the market fragmentation and creates larger and better consolidated entities able to stand on their own feet.
Graphene becoming increasingly available and affordable
Graphene commercialization follows a substitution strategy. This creates a long-term and severe downward price pressure. This is because even the price of the most expensive carbon that it seeks to replace (carbon nanotubes) is rapidly falling (less than $50/Kg for MWCNTs). Therefore, graphene prices must come down whilst the industry still looks for that ‘killer application’.
This is already happening: some suppliers have already started quoting prices <<100$/Kg for certain types of graphene. The low single-digit capacity utilization prevents many from depreciating CapEx and reducing prices further, whilst many in the industry fear that this approach will lead to a pre-mature commoditization of the industry and a further fall in valuations across the board. These factors, together with the multiplicity of production methods, mean that prices vary by several orders of magnitude on the market today.
Industry begins to focus and converge
In the early days, graphene suppliers targeted many divergent sectors. The industry however now has accumulated sufficient market feedback to find focus and to converge on specific applications.
Conductive inks and other functional coatings are becoming a first year-term priority for many given that it is a lower hanging fruit with a simpler (at least shorter) value chain. The applications are also numerous: anti-corrosion coatings, transparent conducting electronics, glucose test strips, car seat headers, de-icers, etc. As in many other sectors, graphene also finds itself playing the role of the additive here. For example, it can be added to carbon inks to improve conductivity and branding, it can be added to zinc-based anti-corrosion coatings to reduce zinc loading, etc. IDTechEx Research forecasts that this will nearly be $25M market in 2022 at the material supply level.
Energy storage will also emerge as a key area for graphene. IDTechEx Research forecasts that nearly $100M of graphene will be sold into the energy storage sector in 2026. Graphene as an additive in Li-ion electrodes is the main near-term opportunity. There are already products on the market and our insight shows that many battery manufacturers, both in Asia and elsewhere, are in the later stages of their qualification periods. We note that CNTs also found success here.
There will also be no winning graphene morphology or type
Here too, graphene will play the role of an additive to improve the performance of carbon-based Li-ion electrodes. There will also be no winning graphene morphology or type: the winner may vary from one battery manufacturer to another, and will depend on the exact formulations used in each battery. Note also that battery electrodes are often coated using slurries or pastes. Silicon anode and lithium sulphur batteries also represent long term opportunities. IDTechEx Research forecasts that these devices will become $4.3-billion and $1.2B markets in 2026, respectively. Graphene may enable this by helping alleviate a key shortcoming: limited cycle life. Early results show that it can do so in silicon anode batteries by absorbing some of volumetric changes experienced by the Si anodes, and in lithium sulphur batteries by entrapping the LiS particles to prevent the polyshuttle process.
Composites have also always been an attractive market for graphene. We forecast this sector to grow to nearly $60 million in 2026 at the material supply level. Ideally, graphene additives should be used for converting low-cost and low-performance plastics into low-cost and high-performance ones, thus changing the market hierarchy of plastic types. Early results show that graphene platelets are effective in imparting excellent mechanical, thermal, and permeation properties onto their host material at low loading levels. Unlike pastes and slurries, a key challenge will be in formulating a good dispersion.
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