Graphene a potential substitute for critical raw materials

Securing availability and access to critical raw materials constitutes a strategic objective for the EU political and economic agenda. Key EU industrial sectors such as construction, chemicals, automotive, aerospace and machinery provide a total added value of €1,324 billion and 30 million jobs and depend on access to critical raw materials. Rare earth elements are essential to industrial production, particularly for clean energy options such as wind turbines, solar cells, electric vehicles and energy-efficient lighting.

The scarcity of critical raw materials, together with their economic importance, makes it necessary to explore new avenues towards substitution in order to reduce the EU’s consumption and decrease the relative dependence upon imports. Recognizing the potential problems that resource scarcity poses for the industry in Europe, the European Commission is funding the project CRM_InnoNet to investigate substitutes of critical raw materials. As part of this project, Graphenea’s Business Development Director Iñigo Charola gave a talk at the conference “Substitution means evolution” on June 17th in Brussels.

Iñigo presented graphene as a potential substitute for the critical material indium, in particular focusing on the replacement of indium tin oxide (ITO) as a transparent conductor. Indium is on the list of EU’s top-20 critical raw materials.

Following the talk, Iñigo participated in a discussion panel where he answered some further questions, clarifying the potential of graphene as a replacement of some scarce materials. For example, Iñigo discussed the advantages of chemical vapour deposition (CVD) of graphene compared to most other graphene production methods, exemplified by the fact that CVD does not start from raw graphite ore but rather relies on widely available gases. CVD is fully compatible with mass production of large areas of high quality graphene for electronics and photonics. Also for the production of the popular graphene oxide, Graphenea uses synthetic graphite instead of the natural ore.

Graphene’s potential and uses in photonics, printed circuit boards and electronic components were also discussed. Most technology roadmaps predict large-scale mainstream use of graphene for these applications sometime between 2020 and 2030. Iñigo explained that graphene is already entering these markets through niche applications but also as a substitute, although price still needs to decrease and that is an important reason why we will have to wait another decade for graphene to be everywhere. Iñigo also mentioned the importance of standardization and legislation.

Finally, Graphenea’s Business Development Director assured us that graphene is not a critical material and we are not at risk of a shortage of graphene. We are looking forward to the continuation of the project CRM_InnoNet, which will map the route for replacement of critical materials, create a network of innovators and stakeholders, and prepare recommendations to relevant policymakers.