PORTLAND, Ore. -- China has taken the lead in carbon nanotube and graphene research and manufacturing, according to Lux Research of Boston, by adding to a global glut market, driving down prices, eroding margins, and likely causing an early shakeout in the fledgling industry.
Lux Research Analyst Zhun Ma, lead author of the recently released report entitled "Fishing for Carbon Gems in a Vast Sea of Oversupply: Assessing China's Carbon Nanotube and Graphene Landscape," tells EE Times:
Lux forecasts that the global graphene nanoplatlet and carbon nanotube demand in 2018 stands at 1,520 tons and 2,016 tons, respectively. However, China alone will be enough to feed total global graphene nanoplatlet demand until 2016. Similarly, aggregate current capacity of Chinese carbon nanotube suppliers can meet forecasted global demand until 2015. We believe the prices of graphene nanoplatlets and carbon nanotubes will continue to drop down once capacity and utilization climb, and the aggressive capacity expansion of Chinese companies will squeeze the profit margins of both nanomaterials.
China's many carbon nanotube research and manufacturing players shown here have taken the lead worldwide in patents and published papers.
(Source: Lux Research, Boston)
The primary driver of China's aggressive pursuit of carbon materials is financial backing from the government. "China’s 12th 5-Year Plan spans from 2011 to 2015, and thus we don’t have the exact data on government funding of nanomaterials," Ma continues. "We estimate the government spending in the 12th 5-Year Plan will hover around $2 billion -- which is 2.5 times the allotment from the previous 5-Year Plan."
China is now the global leader in graphene publications and patents. Its carbon nanotube manufacturing now equals that of the rest of the world, according to Lux. Although it is still behind in graphene technology and manufacturing, China is quickly catching up and leads the world in graphene publications and patents. China also leads the world in carbon nanotube publications, takes second place in patents, and is predicted by Lux to take the lead in manufacturing soon -- mainly based on the fast growth rates at CNano and Timesnano.
"From 2013 to 2015, assuming both CNano and Timesnano execute on their announced expansion plans to add 500 tons per year and 100 tons per year, respectively, China will increase its share of global capacity from 30% to 50%," Ma tells EE Times. "Both CNano and Timesnano have a cost advantage, well-established customer networks, and continuous funding support. They should be considered as potential commercial partners in China."
In graphene, China lags behind, but is working hard to catch up to the US. "On the whole, Chinese graphene firms are in a weak position on the Lux Innovation Grid [see figure] when comparing with their global counterparts, which is partially attributable to their young age," Ma says. "Thus far, their production costs are not competitive with global leading graphene suppliers."
So far, China's domestic graphene and carbon nanotube markets will reach $22.4 million and $48.4 million, respectively, in 2014, according to Lux, driven mostly by their use in lithium-ion batteries and in newer applications, such as coatings and thermal dissipation materials.
One bright area in graphene manufacturing in China comes from The Sixth Element and Ningo Morsh, which has passed the US in capacity to manufacture graphene nanoplatlets.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times