An ISO working group is also reviewing the framework with the goal of adapting it to create an international graphene standard.

Automotive Applications

Graphene producers have been working closely with manufacturers to incorporate the nanomaterial into composite materials. Manufacturers of some high-end products have been including graphene in their mixes, but the graphene industry strives for wider usage.

Versarien PLC, based in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom, has significantly increased production of its graphene powder products over the last two years, including its flagship product Nanene™, hoping to expand the graphene market into larger-volume, lower-priced applications.

“Five years ago, we were producing a few grams a week. We’re now up to 10 tons a year, and probably in the next year or so we’ll be tenfold that,” says Jim Barnett, Versarien’s head of program management.

The automotive industry is a potential large-volume customer. In one demonstration project, Versarien’s subsidiary, 2-DTech, worked with Lotus Cars, University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing and Research Centre (AMRC) and several composite supply chain companies to produce a graphene-enhanced CFRP hood for the Lotus Evija electric sports car. By determining the optimal amount of graphene to include in the prepreg resin for the hood, the group improved the component’s mechanical performance by 10% and produced a surface that met Lotus’ paint specifications.

Graphene’s multi-functional nature makes it useful for a variety of automotive parts, says Steve Hodge, chief technology officer at Versarien. Graphene-enhanced composites could be used for a vehicle’s structural panels and interior parts, where the nanomaterial’s high thermal decomposition temperature could also reduce fire risk.

“Graphene has good electrical performance, high mechanical strength, good thermal conductivity and optical properties. It’s a chemically robust material; it doesn’t degrade until you get to very high temperatures. We can actually modify the chemistry of the surface quite easily to make it more compatible with certain resin systems,” says Hodge. “So really, it’s like a toolkit that enables us to modify and enhance any composite material.”

He believes automotive companies and composites manufacturers will be more likely to incorporate graphene into vehicle components once they feel confident that graphene producers can deliver the nanomaterial in the quantity and at the consistent performance levels they require.

Graphene-Enhanced SMC

In 2021, graphene producer NanoXplore opened a fully automated production plant in Montreal that makes two grades of graphene powder using a liquid exfoliation process. The company also operates a composites business unit that manufactures finished parts, primarily for the heavy-duty truck and bus industry. Tarek Jalloul, the company’s technical project lead, says that vehicles with graphene-enhanced SMC exterior panels should be available commercially within the next few months.

The company is working with an industrial partner to produce a proprietary graphene-enhanced SMC compound that it will use to manufacture composite parts, as well as brand and sell under the NanoXplore trademark to other molders.