NGA2D SPOTLIGHT: TLC Products interview with Charles Chang

Welcome to the latest NGA2D spotlight article—the Q&A article series which showcases 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 U.S. graphene-polymer composite manufacturer, TLC Products. Charles Chang, the CEO of TLC Products, has provided the answers for today’s article.

TLC Products is a company focused on producing graphene composites rather than graphene itself — why has the decision been made to make graphene composites (specifically graphene-polymer composites) over graphene itself or other graphene-based materials? 

Rutgers University developed a patented technology to exfoliate graphene directly from graphite in molten plastics in the lab. TLC Products was set up to commercialize this technology. It is the exclusive licensee.

What technologies/methods are you using to create graphene composites and what scale can you currently make them at? 

The technology we are utilizing is a proprietary plastic processing method to exfoliate graphene directly from graphite. We designed a commercial production process and have successfully tested it with a pilot line. In October 2020, we can produce graphene composites from a production line. It’ll make 1-2 tons of composites per day or 300-600 tons per year.

Are you hoping to scale up the process in the future, and to what level of production are you hoping to achieve? 

We plan to scale up the production line to 10-20 tons per machine per day or 3,000-6,000 tons per year. Additional capacity can be accomplished by multiple machines.

You come from a plastic processing background. Why the interest now in using graphene and are you hoping to solve any key challenges with your technology? 

-Graphene has wonderful mechanical, electrical and thermo properties. These are exactly the area where plastics can be benefited from. By combining graphene in plastics, the composites can elevate the properties of plastics to a completely new level of performance. Hence, they can expand the use of graphene composites in many new applications.

High cost has been the challenge for the plastic industry to capitalize on the performance of graphene composites. The TLC production process utilizes graphite as raw material and brings the cost of graphene composites down to a level that is economically feasible for the plastic industry to use graphene composites.

With the polymer-graphene composites you are making, what industries and market sectors are you targeting? 

The first group is transportation. All mode of transportation, including cars, planes, buses, train cars, were initially made using metal. A reduction in the weight of the materials used has been an ongoing goal for all of them.

A more urgent one is EVs (Electric Vehicles). The lighter it is, the longer the battery lasts. With the improved graphene composites, it is conceivable to make an “all plastic” EV car.

Consumer goods, including sporting goods, sneakers, and daily household products can benefit from the superior properties of graphene composites. A short development cycle will make quick adoption in this area.

All products made with plastics can also use graphene composites. This will be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Out of all these markets, where do you think the biggest impact will be seen? And will this be because of the cost or the performance of these composites, or a combination of both? 

A major market is in the automobile industry. Graphene composites can not only be used in EV cars, but also in all ICE (internal combustion engine) cars.

The performance of graphene composites is well known by the automobile industry. The current challenges are cost and capacity. TLC technology reduces the cost to a more acceptable range.

The production capacity can also be expanded according to the market requirement. The automobile industry could now design cars with more options and flexibility using graphene composites.

How long do you think it will take for the graphene-polymer composites that you are currently manufacturing to become well-established in end-use markets? 

In 1-2 years for the consumer goods industry and 3-5 years in the transportation industry.

Finally, looking to the future, what are the short-term and long-term goals and/or plans of TLC Products?  

In the short term, TLC will expand its development work with customers in various industries. With the added capacity from the production machine, we can support greater testing requirements.

Our long-term goal is to share this technology with the industry through licensing. We’ll offer our knowhow and experience to support our licensees to supply products for their markets.

Ultimately, we believe that the TLC graphene composite technology will become the standard manufacturing process in the composite industry.