NGA2D Spotlight: GrapheneCR
Welcome to the latest NGA2D spotlight article — the Q&A article series which showcases the companies within the US 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 manufacturer, GrapheneCR (GCR). Both Maví Figueres (Founder and Director) and Eric Hoxit (CEO) have provided the answers for today’s interview.
Starting at the beginning, how long has GrapheneCR been around for and how did GrapheneCR come about?
Maví: I first heard about graphene five or six years ago, and like everyone else, I was blown away and I knew I needed to get involved, somehow. My background was in commodities so I started trying to find out who I knew who might have some connections in this new field and who was really making things happen.
There was a lot of hype going around back then about graphene, even more than now, if you can believe it. I made loads of calls but none of my connections really knew anyone dealing with graphene. There wasn’t very much of it, it was incredibly expensive and the only people working with it were academics. Commercialization was only just beginning.
So, as it happened, one day I was speaking with my father and mentioned about how difficult it was to find an “in” with this amazing new material and he said he had just heard about this gentleman in Tennessee who was making graphene by the ton, Dr. Sam Weaver.
I couldn’t believe it! I’m based in Birmingham, Alabama, so that’s only a few hours away! My father made the introduction and I rushed right up there to meet Dr. Weaver. First off, Dr. Weaver instantly became my hero. We use the word “genius” all the time now, but he is the real thing! Absolutely brilliant, and a gentleman, to boot.
Dr. Weaver was good enough to show me around his plant, and explained to me all about his company, Proton Power Inc. (PPI). They started as a clean energy company producing hydrogen from biomass and have been very successful at it. As it turned out, one of their co-products is a biochar that in addition to being an amazing material all by itself, is an amazing precursor for making high quality graphene powder. And because of how he makes it, it is actually carbon negative! Being from Costa Rica where we are well known for taking care of our environment, I knew instantly that this was someone I wanted to work with.
I proposed a partnership to help him commercialize the graphene part of the business and help with business and applications development, he accepted, and here we are today, the largest graphene producer in the world!
What types of graphene does GrapheneCR supply?
Eric: We are focused mainly on our ProCene® graphene powder and our ProCNano® graphene nanoplatelets materials, but we have also developed liquid dispersions, as well as our new graphene enhanced polymers pellets that we call PelleGraf®.
GrapheneCR is known to be an environmentally conscious company. Could you please explain what is meant by the ‘carbon negative graphene’ that you produce?
Eric: The graphene is made with a renewable, carbon negative process that is a combination of patented and proprietary processing.
Since our feedstock is biomass, as opposed to the graphite used in most of the other graphenes being produced, we start out with a drastically lower carbon footprint, since 100% of the US graphite supply is imported.
But the real difference is in how our material removes the carbon in that biomass from the carbon cycle. In essence, the carbon that makes up our graphene is the same carbon that the trees “breathed” from the air. It’s almost poetic.
Is GrapheneCR a company who just supplies graphene to the general market, or do you work in collaboration with end-use companies to discuss how best to use the graphene in their products? Or is it a bit of both?
Maví: It really is a bit of both. We started out thinking, as it seems a lot of others in the field did, that if we just mixed in a little bit of this “magic graphene” it would improve everything it touched. Well, as we have all learned, it’s usually not that simple.
So, we have been testing and testing and testing to build our knowledge and best practices so we can help guide potential clients to get the most benefit from adding our graphene to their products.
We have also been building some wonderful relationships with leaders in graphene applications, like IA Coatings. They are miles ahead in figuring out how to work effectively with graphene.
What excites you about working in the graphene industry? And what would you say, in your opinion, sets you apart from other graphene manufacturing companies?
Maví: Everything! I love graphene!
When we started GCR we had a pretty clear vision of what we wanted to accomplish, and that really is focused on solving the problems we saw with graphene by making it environmentally friendly, producing it in large enough volumes, priced reasonably enough to be an industrial material and not just a scientific curiosity, and to make it accessible and safe enough that we can share this amazing material with everyone—from giant corporations to world famous universities to even the farthest corners of the world.
It also seems that so much of what we see and read is always about the “sexy” stuff, like foldable phones and biosensors. Which are AMAZING, but we have tried to see that the potential for graphene to make some of the biggest impacts, maybe in applications that some might think are less sexy. Things like building materials. Imagine what we can do to reduce climate change just by making homes and buildings more sustainable and energy efficient while making them more resilient. Not to mention all the energy and money that can be saved using graphene to improve infrastructure projects!
We know that graphene, and particularly our ProCene and ProCNano, can make such an amazingly positive impact. Our goal is to “heal the earth” with our graphene!
What are the future plans for GrapheneCR and how do you see GrapheneCR developing in the future?
Eric: It’s only a matter of time before graphene is everywhere and in everything. It will be ubiquitous—and we want our graphene to be the first choice for all types of applications. We are looking forward to seeing it everywhere. Even in space. On Mars! The sky isn’t the limit anymore, is it?