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Brit graphene maker poised to go public: Yes, wonder stuff WILL float

Applied Graphene Materials chief: 'We want to be one of the first to market'

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A British startup whose goal is to seriously expand production of graphene and push Blighty to the front of a global race goes public on Wednesday.

Applied Graphene Materials will IPO on London's AIM stock exchange with the goal of raising £11m from investors hungry to get in on the ground floor of what’s been hailed as a "wonder material".

The IPO is reported to be more than two times oversubscribed.

Money from the listing will help fund an ambitious three-year development and research campaign by AGM chief executive Jon Mabbitt.

AGM will build a commercial plant on the site of a former ICI plant in Teesside, and plans to pump out eight tonnes of pure graphene per year for the next two years – a 700 per cent increase on its current output done using prototype equipment.

The goal is to produce 100 tonnes of graphene annually in three years’ time.

The startup – a 2010 spinout from the University of Durham - stands to become one of the first, if not the first, commercial operation mass-producing graphene.

AGM will float at 155 pence a share with the company valued at £26.2m.

“The reason for IPOing now is we want to be one of the first to market,” a bullish Mabbitt told The Reg on the eve of AGM’s float.

“To get there we need the resources. We feel we’ve got the IP and this initial use of funds is to take us to a modest level, a low-risk scale-up. What we really want to do [over the] next two to three years is build the next size of asset - a 50-100 tonnes plant.”

The money will also pay for technicians and scientists who’ll push developments in graphene and work with customers on graphene’s use in their products.

AGM currently has 10 employees.

AGM reckons it has nailed a process for making graphene at the kind of scale envisaged by Mabbitt’s plan, a process devised by AGM founder Professor Karl Coleman.

AGM uses Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVN), a process which distills graphene when gas molecules come into contact with a suitable substrate material.

This differs to the University of Manchester’s approach, which was to keep splitting a block of graphene until it produced a layer a single atom thick.

The idea is to produce more graphene at a lower cost.

AGM won’t go to into details about how exactly its CVN process works or what will go on at the new plant. The reason is intense global competition, with individuals and companies in the US and China scrambling to grab patents over the graphene manufacturer process.

Applied Graphene's Jon Mabbitt, photo: Applied Graphene Materials

Mabbitt: We have the IP, we just need the millions to make tonnes of graphene

AGM itself has had a patent pending on its process since 2009.

Graphene is seen as having broad use in conducting electricity, preventing objects overheating and making things stronger, while also keeping them light.

Graphene is relatively simple – a sheet of graphite atoms in a honeycomb pattern. It was the process of synthesizing it from graphite – the material in pencils – by University of Manchester scientist Andrej Geim and Kostya Novoselov in 2004, that made graphene a reality and that netted the duo a Nobel Prize in 2010.

Who will buy it?

The material is just one atom thick, yet very strong, with a breaking point 200 times greater than that of steel – making it the strongest material tested. It’s 60 per cent more conductive than copper and its thermal conductivity is five times better than aluminum.

It also offers the prospect of new ways of conducting electricity while making batteries that last longer and devices that run cooler.

The potential is for application in computers, phones, cameras, and TVs that draw less power and operate for long periods of time on battery.

Also, there’s the potential for large objects like electric cars to be made lighter while retaining their strength, reducing their drain on the battery by weighing less.

Such is the level of excitement around graphene, and perceived commercial applicability, companies and counties are racing to patent manufacturing ideas.

IP? Glad you asked

China leads the field with 2,204 patents with aerospace client Lockheed Martin locking down a patent on graphene used in filters to turn salt water into something you can drink.

A prototype desalination plant is planned by Lockheed Martin by 2015.

Consumer electronics giant Samsung, maker of TVs and the world’s most popular smartphone running Android, holds 407 graphene-related patents.

One analyst reckoned the value of the market for graphene-based products will be $67m by 2015 and $671m by 2020 – up from more or less zero today. Capacitors and structured materials are expected to be the largest two segments.

There is, of course a risk of hype creeping in. Some have warned people are over playing the material's potential... to its detriment, saying that once it has proved unable to work in certain areas, a backlash will begin across the board.

Mabbitt and AGM are shying away from the hype of consumer electronics. Rather, their first customers are those working in plastics, composite materials, paints, lubricants and oils – mixing graphene with other things, he said.

AGM’s process produces graphene two microns thick – substantially thicker, in molecular terms, than the standard single-atom thickness of 0.00033 microns.

Mabbitt’s company is working with vacuum, heater and fan maker Dyson on potentially mixing its brand of graphene with the plastics used in Dyson's cleaners. Graphene could also help dissipate static electricity, preventing the build up of the charge and reducing the amount of dust that clings to the vacuums' innards.

Separately, there is interest in painting graphene on ships’ hulls, increasing vessels’ hull strength and resistance to corrosion and improving their movement through water – thereby increasing their fuel efficiency.

Mabbit, a former managing director two British composite-materials companies, reckons it's up to the industry to find its level and for people to find the "correct" applications for graphene.

“The challenge for the industry is to understand how much it [graphene] can be enhanced by other materials. This is as revolutionary as plastics [and silicon] were to the last century... Graphene has that potential capability. It’s down to the pull from the market and the application developers [as to] how quickly it will be adopted,” Mabbitt said.

“Graphene is an enabling technology, where what we are doing is putting the basic material in to the market at an affordable level and volume,” Mabbitt said. “The only thing restricting [this market] has been the ability to manufacture at scale; it has just been just an academic process thus far." ®

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