The commercialization of graphene-based products is a recurring theme in this blog. Why after much talking about graphene being a wonder material the most high-tech graphene-based product we can buy is still a tennis racket? Nature Reviews Materials asked this question to Seongjun Park, an engineer working in Samsung and studying graphene. In a Comment piece, he reminded the readers that the commercialization of new materials and technologies always takes time, often decades — optical memory devices and phase-change memories are good examples, as it took more than 30 years to take them to the market. Compared to them, graphene is still a young technology: it is only 12 years that scientists and engineers are playing with it and tweaking its properties.
Park likens the process of commercialization to a jigsaw puzzle, in which many pieces need to fit together in order to produce a recognizable image. Many studies are carried out on graphene, but they often focus on one specific property, whereas for creating a graphene-based device multiple properties have to be optimized at the same time, and multiple engineering challenges have to be addressed. Currently, two types of applications are under development: those that are easy to develop and promise low reward, and those that are very challenging but are potential game-changers. The way to go, Park reckons, is to develop the first kind of products while we wait for the second kind to mature. One factor that is slowing down the process of graphene commercialization is the fact that academics tend to focus on research lines that are likely to lead to high-profile publications, expecting engineers in industry to develop commercial products on their own; papers reporting results from industry are often judged incremental and of little interest. A stronger link between academia and industry is thus needed to speed up graphene commercialization.
It is often said that in the Gartner hype cycle graphene has passed the peak of inflated expectations. Now is time to take a more realistic approach to what researchers and engineers can develop in the short term. It is very early to lose faith in the potential of graphene to enable new, revolutionary products.
Giulia Pacchioni (Nature Reviews Materials)