NGA2D SPOTLIGHT: Grolltex’s Draa on developments in graphene

Welcome to the latest NGA2D spotlight article, a Q&A series showcasing the companies within the U.S. industry as well as those which have been involved with NGA2D over the years (regardless of geographical location).

This article is dedicated to the California-based graphene and hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) manufacturer, Grolltex. Jeff Draa, the CEO of Grolltex, has provided the answers to my questions for today’s article.

Grolltex has become a well-known name in the U.S. graphene industry. What did you set out to achieve by setting up Grolltex? 

We had two things we wanted to accomplish when we started the company:

1. To disrupt and improve the existing CVD generated monolayer films business, in terms of quality and breadth of product offerings.

2. To gather enough information about the behavior of that market to inform us as to what the break-out applications, the ‘first mover’ use cases, would be for this important material.

From our view, we have achieved both, at least to our satisfaction. And, so as not to keep the reader in suspense, the best fit first mover application we see is biosensing.

Most graphene manufacturers just stick to producing graphene (sometimes in different forms, but still graphene). Why has Grolltex taken the option of producing both graphene and hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN)? 

There are a few, fortunately complementary, reasons. Many advanced electronic device designers, when they look toward monolayer materials for ideas for their next generation devices, can benefit from being able to consider both a conducting layer and an insulating layer for their device ideas.  This can open many doors.

Additionally, it turns out that layering these materials together in specific combinations can enhance the performance of one of the films beyond what it might have achieved by itself.  A sort of a ‘2 + 2 equals 5’ kind of arrangement.

Finally, for us, both monolayer graphene and h-BN are produced in a very complementary manner, in the same equipment with near parallel processing ideas and mechanisms.

We saw this as an easy decision and an opportunity to be the only supplier that offers both materials.

Does Grolltex have any plans to expand and produce other 2D materials in the future, or is the commercialization potential of some of the other 2D materials going to determine which materials are viable to produce? 

Well, the answer is both.  We do have high level plans to fully characterize molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) — a transition metal dichalcogenide (TMDC) — and we have done some preliminary work in this direction.

This can be a desirable gate material for the semiconductor industry, but to date, the market demand isn’t there yet. So, we are focusing on areas where customers are paying more attention.

Grolltex have made a point over the years of using roll to roll processing over other manufacturing methods. What has been the reasons for producing 2D materials in this way compared to other methods? (and what advantages does this have over other methods)

The advantages of using our roll-to-roll technologies are quality, throughput and cost. We have other techniques that are serial and others that are batch, so we don’t employ roll-to-roll for every project; but it’s a big strength of ours when we can use it.

We initially created ‘roll-to-roll’ for principal use in transfer of graphene from the copper growth substrate to the ultimate target substrate, but we have since created downstream patterning and device formation steps that are also roll-to-roll compatible.

So, now large parts of the device manufacturing process can be automated rather than just the transfer step. We are also making graphene devices on plastic, instead of silicon wafers, so our roll-to-roll processes can be extended even more.

You’re based in the U.S. Do you find that most of your customers are based in the U.S., or do your graphene products get used around the globe? 

Turns out a little over half of our business is in the U.S. and the rest is in Europe and/or Asia.

What application areas do your graphene and h-BN products tend to be used in, and what applications/market sectors are you currently targeting for the future?

Well I’ve talked a bit about biosensors already and there will be even more activity in that area as our customers figure out different modalities and functionalization schemas in which graphene can be used in various ways to detect biological signals…and there are many.

Beyond that, we’re starting to see an uptick in activity in photonics sensors and semiconductor use cases, specifically interconnects. Also, strain sensors are getting some new attention lately out of Asia.

Finally, Grolltex has already established itself as a key manufacturer of CVD graphene and h-BN, what are the future short-term and long-term plans for Grolltex? 

We will be moving more and more into devices made of graphene, rather than just being a material provider only.

We started offering our customers alternatives to their current packaging designs and this is creating a new, higher level demand that we are starting to really dial in to. We are giving customers more configuration choices at dramatically lower prices…the classic ‘win-win’.

We think this will really move the needle.