The graphene market has seen ever-increasing demands from companies in the last few years.
Recently, NanoXplore announced a plan to purchase a “significant portion” of XG Sciences’ assets after entering into an asset purchase agreement with XG’s senior secured creditor. As part of the sale agreement, NanoXplore will acquire XG’s mechanical milling platform and research and development lab, alongside intellectual property, including all issued and pending patents and trademarks. It was stated that this will be a cash purchase.
“XG has been a respected competitor of ours for years, and the integration of their assets will further support the growth of NanoXplore. This acquisition accelerates our participation in the battery material space and significantly increases our intellectual property related to graphene and graphene-enhanced battery materials,” stated the president and CEO of NanoXplore, Soroush Nazarpour.
XG Sciences was one of the earliest and most prominent graphene players, forming in 2006. They developed various exfoliation processes that produce a range of products, although typically with a thickness far greater than the ISO definition of a graphene nanoplatelet (GNP).
XG Sciences established a notable capacity and had several announced commercial engagements from Callaway (golf balls), Grays Hockey (hockey sticks), Niagara Bottling (plastic bottles), and most notably, Ford. There have also been previous announcements, including an MoU with Sinochem Plastics and Yuyao PGS. This news shows not only the consolidation but also the challenges facing graphene manufacturers, many of whom have never been profitable and depend on public or private funding for their cash flow. Non-graphene-related subsidiaries, adjacent businesses, or being part of a larger parent company can also help financially support and strategically position graphene players, but this may well send an industry-wide warning.
A broad family of materials is produced under the umbrella term of ‘graphene’ with varying properties, both physical and economic; companies are looking to demonstrate the value-add of their material in a range of use-cases. Via this acquisition, NanoXplore have not only grown their production capacity but also enhanced their portfolio of IP and therefore increased their number of routes to penetrate into the market. Of particular interest is the focus on battery technologies as per the quote above, an area that NanoXplore have already been pursuing with the formation of their joint venture VolaXplore with Martinrea.
Carbon black has a long-established supply chain, with only a handful of major players, such as Cabot Corporation and Birla Carbon. With the consolidation of the number of suppliers, it is also noted that both material costs and profit margins reduced.
A major topic of conversation among companies and professionals within the graphene industry is the identification of the killer application for the material. Early penetration has been seen in areas such as thermal management materials, but this is a smaller addressable market than others that are being targeted. A parallel can be seen for multi-walled carbon nanotubes, a material that has seemingly found its killer application as a conductive additive battery cathode. This has seen several major players in the chemical and material sector enter the market either by building a facility or through M&A activity, such as LG Chem, who recently announced plans to build a fourth CNT manufacturing plant.