The Foundation of The Graphene Revolution Is Bio-Based Materials

Researchers around the world have been looking for the next material that will create a paradigm shift in product development and innovation. Universities and large corporations have sunk billions of dollars into working with rare materials that will put them on the bleeding edge of technology.

Many of the thought leaders across industry sectors have been asking themselves, what types of substances are most likely to lead the revolution in materials science?

Of course, at Heartland, we believe that the next shift in materials science will be found through reliable bio-based supply chains. But, the hemp-based materials we are using have commodity pricing and have been around for thousands of years. For many of the top innovators around the world, this isn’t as exciting as some of the other materials that have been discovered over the past couple of decades.

This leads us to one type of material that will create a profound impact across manufacturing and innovation: nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials are under 100 nanometers in size, or 1/10 of 1 micrometer (or micron). One nanoparticle is invisible to the human eye, which makes it very difficult to work with. These materials are traditionally defined by increased strength, chemical reactivity, and conductivity.

But today, there are dozens of different types of nanomaterials. So, this begs the question, which nanomaterial will reign supreme over the next decade or so?

Our answer? Look at the world around you and tell us which elements are the most abundant. When we look at the most common materials that make up our planet, we are left with one element: carbon.

A two-dimensional carbon material is referred to as graphene. This material is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice. Many people have heard of graphene, but few truly understand what it is and why it is important.

Leaders across industries who are starting to familiarize themselves with graphene are asking themselves a few common questions:

  • What can graphene do for me?
  • Where can I get it?
  • How much does it cost?

These simple questions have led to a lot of dead end conversations. Although over 50,000 graphene patents have been submitted over the past 3 years, many innovators are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

They have discovered and patented revolutionary technology that uses graphene, but they are finding the path to commercialization arduous and never ending.

The price of graphene can range anywhere from $100 to $450,000 per pound (0r about $1,000 per gram). This, of course, depends on the quality. Unfortunately, not all graphene is created equal.  The manufacturing process and input material determine the true value and properties of graphene. Today’s lower quality graphene is out there on the market to compete with carbon black, which is traditionally used in plastic and rubber applications.

Although today’s price tags for good quality graphene sound hefty, in the early 2000’s, graphene prices were closer to $100,000,000 per gram. So, we’ve come a long way in a short period of time.

On top of the hefty cost per pound, manufacturers are left with a relatively small supply base. There are only a handful of companies that are producing graphene at scale. Many of the companies that are building graphene supply chains are only focused on inexpensive graphene that is easy to manufacture.

This means that some of the greatest modern-day innovations are stuck in R&D labs at universities and corporations with no way out. Without a supply chain of high quality graphene, products that utilize graphene will never make it into full scale production.

This supply / demand gap is creating a bottleneck in product development that is frustrating to all of those who are passionate about innovation.

Let’s dive a little bit deeper to determine why graphene supply chains have traditionally been so hard to create. This is important if we want to crack the code to scalable, high-quality graphene manufacturing practices.

If we dive into the beginning of the graphene supply chain, what we find is a very inexpensive raw material: graphite.

This is the same graphite that you find in pencils, batteries, solar panels, and lubricants. Under extreme heat and pressure, graphite turns into a diamond, which is a perfect 3-dimensional carbon structure. With the right processing techniques, graphite can also turn into graphene, which is a perfect 2-dimensional carbon structure.

There are two common ways to transform graphite into graphene:

  • A mechanical process called exfoliation (which can also use chemicals at times).
  • A chemical process called CVD, or Chemical Vapor Deposition.

These two techniques are costly, dirty, inefficient, and difficult to execute at scale. The bottleneck in graphene production is not based on a limited supply of graphite, it is based on inefficient processes that have high CAPEX and OPEX.

So, even if a company were to come up with a traditional graphene production process at scale, they would still be forced to sell the material at high price points because of the millions in investment required to start and run a graphene facility.

If we dive deeper into the problems with traditional graphene processes, we can also see a red flag in the disparity within the input materials.

Every mined material is a little different from the next. For example, think about a diamond. Every diamond is unique, even if they are mined from the same mountain at the same time.

Graphite from a mine in Sri Lanka will be different from the graphite dug out of a mine in America. Because minerals lack continuity, it makes the creation of a scalable production practice quite difficult. If the input material is always different, how is it possible to create continuity in the end product?

The answer is: it’s possible, it’s just difficult and expensive.

So, you’re probably asking yourself, what is the solution to the bottleneck in graphene production?

Well, I’m glad you asked.

The answer is simple: bio-based materials.

As I’m sure you know, carbon is the building block of all organic matter. You and I are made from carbon. The plants and animals you eat are all carbon-based. Carbon can be found in most of the things that you see around you. We live in a carbon-based world, so it makes no sense that we must rely on mined materials like graphite in order to derive graphene.

Carbon is the most abundant material on this planet, so given that we can create a simple production process, we can scale a high-quality graphene supply chain to meet demand. All we’re really doing is creating a carbon-conversion process.

The reason why bio-based materials are perfect for this carbon conversion process is because the cell structure of plants is continuous. Because there is continuity in the cell structure, bio-based materials create a predictable input material. This is exactly what’s needed to build a successful graphene supply chain.

With an inexpensive input material and a scalable process, graphene can be created at a price point comparable to most of the competing materials within the market.

Our team at Heartland Industries is doing R&D on multiple graphene production processes that will allow us to build a reliable graphene supply chain using bio-based materials as the inputs.

This will allow us to easily outcompete other companies that are reliant on graphite supply chains that have a variance in the structural integrity of each batch.

Since our industrial hemp supply chain focuses on bio-continuity, we are able to ensure the same input material every single time. Because of how we have formatted our supply chain, a carbon conversion process is straightforward and easily scalable.

As a raw materials supplier that builds bio-based supply chains, we are able to look at the thousands of use cases that can benefit from materials like industrial hemp and graphene.

Besides composites, one of the products that will instantly benefit from a graphene supply chain is supercapacitors.

Supercapacitors are used in battery applications that require many rapid charge and discharge cycles (rather than long-term compact energy storage). This is important for the mobility sector because things like automobiles, buses, trains, and even elevators can use regenerative braking, short-term energy storage, and burst mode delivery.

Supercapacitors can store 10 to 100 times more energy per unit (of volume or mass) than traditional capacitors. Although the battery industry has traditionally been a laggard in technology innovation, supercapacitor development is the breakthrough that leaders across the energy industry have been waiting on for decades.

Graphene is a main component within next-generation supercapacitors that will unlock innovations across energy storage, distribution, and mobility. With just this one technology, graphene will revolutionize transportation and energy. It has already been proven that hemp-based graphene can make supercapacitors 200% more efficient.

A recent article from Car Biz Today talks about Heartland’s graphene supply chain and its impact on supercapacitors in the automotive industry.

In the article, our CEO, Jesse Henry, mentions that “Heartland will build the graphene supply chain so that large manufacturers have a reliable supply of raw materials for the scalable production of end products within the automotive sector.”

The automotive industry is just one sliver of demand for graphene. Every university and Fortune 500 company on the planet is looking for a reliable supply base of graphene for their R&D labs.

Some of the top innovations over the next decade will only be able to be commercialized if companies have access to a graphene supply chain.

There has never been a more important time in history to uncover scalable production practices for high-value materials.

Fortunately, because we’re building a reliable hemp supply chain, we will be able to build a reliable graphene supply chain.

As we continue to build our team and the scope of opportunities that are possible with our supply chain, we are looking to connect with people who can see hemp and graphene making a profound impact on the areas of industry that matter to them.

It’s the innovators and the trail blazers of the world that are paving the way for future generations. The evolution of manufacturing will leverage high-value materials like hemp and graphene to radically shift the value proposition of products and companies across market sectors.

The time has come to step into the future. These innovations in material science are going to shape the future of industry for decades to come.

Join us as we build a world out of bio-based materials.

— Heartland Team

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