It may be miracle science, but turning the wonder of graphene into profits for investors is a hard-nosed business that will involve some judicial decision-making.
Graphene famously, is only one atom thick. Except that it doesn’t have to be.
“But typically, if there are up to 100 layers, it’s graphene. If there are over 100 layers it’s graphite.”
Nevertheless, a good working definition for graphene remains that it’s a single atomic layer of carbon held together in a two-dimensional lattice.
And it’s only in commercial applications that the nuance of difference really comes in. If graphene does vary, exactly how and why it varies will be the trick in making it pay.
“A lot of the IP is what you do with graphene,” says Mabbitt.
“The challenge with us is to unlock the potential, and that comes with having patented graphene production technology that produces consistent quality platelets, and having the know-how and IP to ensure the dispersion transfers graphene’s enhancement properties.”
So, it’s not so much what it is, as what is done with it.
And Applied Graphene Materials has taken a commercial approach from the get-go.
The intellectual property has a strong pedigree, coming into the company straight out of Durham University, and already AGM’s graphene has been applied in coatings and composites, including but by no means limited to in the manufacture of fishing rods, and in the manufacture of paint.
Each usage is unique in its effects, but the common theme, that the material looks set to start a slow revolution in materials science, is already making itself apparent.
Thus in fishing rods, Applied Graphene Materials’ product underpins the resin in the rod structure material and helps prevent micro-cracking to give the rod additional flexibility and strength. In paints, corrosion is effectively combated by the inclusion of graphene, such that James Briggs Limited has signed a joint development agreement to incorporate it into a new range of primers, expected to be launched this year.
And Applied Graphene is also working with potential partners in aerospace and defence for materials to go into aircraft and satellites.
All told, the company has over 100 “active engagements” with companies that are testing the products, according to Mabbitt.
“We expect we will gather momentum quickly as our product gets out into market,” he says.
In the medium term that’s likely to lead to sales of the order of tens of millions of pounds, although precise forecasting is a little tricky at this early stage.
Nevertheless, the company is already in talks with potential customers for deals, which if signed, would take it to breakeven.
Further down the line, sales into the aerospace industry, in particular on the back of the Company’s partnership with the UK’s National Aerospace Technology Programme (NATEP), could boost profits still further.
There may need to be another funding in the meantime to tide the company over, but there’s clearly a plan in place that is being adhered to.
“We’ve gone a long way to de-risk the proposition,” says Mabbitt. “The zinc client would take us to breakeven, but it’s likely it’s going to be a combination of larger and smaller opportunities that get us there.”