2D materials fit for business?

7 years ago have passed since Andre Geim and Kostantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Price in Physics for the discovery of graphene, a two-dimensional material that has then become a celebrated wonder material.
Graphene is the thinnest compound known because one atom thick and that is why is often defined as a 2D material and it is also the strongest, 200 times more than steel. The amazing properties that it has shown since the very early days had led to a spectacular rise in research projects aimed to find home in new industrial sectors. However, after the initial excitement some frustration has started to spread because graphene-ehnanced products haven’t generated meaningful turnover and on the market there are just few sport gears such as rackets, golf balls and light skis that contains some little quantity of it, like in the case of an UK-based bike manufacturer which has gone so far as to introduce in its portfolio a bike made of graphene that weighs only 750g.
Analysts are reviewing their forecasts and now only few of them still think that graphene market will reach the €100m sales pa by 2020 as estimated just couple of years ago. Having said that, it must be said that the most promising and profitable applications like superconductive materials, electronics and heterogenous catalysis are known for having very long development times.
Everything can be said but not that graphene researchers haven’t got financial support for their projects. Institutions had put lavish investments on R&D projects, like for example the British government that has invested GBP61m in the state of the art National Graphene Institute in Manchester. Even bigger has been the commitment of the European Community which has financed the creation of the Graphene Flagship a consortium that consists of over 150 academic and industrial research groups from 23 countries with a spending fire power of €1bn.
The discovery of graphene has also given impulse to researches in a new area called 2-D chemistry which exotic and interesting materials like Xenes, that are sheets of monolayer, like graphene, but not with carbon atoms but rather silicon, germanium or tin and organized honeycomb lattice. Despite their unique structure Xenes are unfortunately even behind than Graphene to have an economic impact.
A step change for Graphene will be the development of a cheap manufacturing process to replace the current production methods for production that are run under vacuum in complex reactors difficult to scale up and that require enormous amount of solvents like up to 1 ton per 1 kg graphene. In this sense seems to be promising the new manufacturing route proposed by Hongbin Lu and his team from the Polymer Composite, Materials and Department of Macromolecular Science of the Fudan University. Lu’s team has managed to flocculate aqueous slurry with concentrations of graphene as high as 5 wt% without using surfactant and with limited amount of solvents. The real trigger to reach a high yield was to adjust the pH of the starting dispersion. The scientists have found that when the pretreated graphene is exfoliated at pH = 12, the yield is very low and leads to dispersions with concentration in the region of 1% whereas when the exfoliation takes place at pH = 13 or 14, graphene flakes rapidly flocculate. The article describes then the use of the obtained graphene-slurry for the making of graphene aerogels (porous 3D materials) via 3D printing techniques.
What is becoming clear is that it will not be fast and easy for graphene to find home in the business environment. It has not been easy for other wonder and celebrated materials that had generated big excitement in the recent past, such as fullerenes (Nobel Price in 1987) and CNT but eventualy, after decades, they started to generate some solid turnovers.
Academia and Entrepreneurs can help to make graphene and all the 2D materials viable for business and prove wrong all the pessimists, and led to some major application, though not just yet.