Elena Polyakova Enhances the 3D Printability of Graphene
Graphene 3D Labs Race to Print with "Miracle Material"
Elena Polyakova is the CEO of Graphene Laboratories, Inc. and the COO of the spinout company Graphene 3D Labs, Inc. which is focused on the development and manufacturing of graphene-enhanced materials for 3D printing.
Graphene has long been hailed as a miracle material since winning the Nobel Prize in Physics by Kostya Novoselov and Andre Geim. Graphene is composed of an isolated atom-thick layer of carbon possessing incredible strength, flexibility and is one of the best electricity conductor materials in the world. Harnessing the power of this new element will be the key to new advances in electronics.
Can you give me a little background into Graphene 3D Labs and how it was formed?
Five years ago, Dr. Daniel Stolyarov (Graphene 3D lab’s CEO) and I founded Graphene Laboratories, which is a privately-held company that manufactures and retails graphene and other 2D materials. Graphene Labs is focused on serving R&D markets, and has several thousand customers – naturally, Graphene Labs also researches the potential commercial applications of graphene. Our research at Graphene Labs led us to believe that graphene’s most immediate commercial use is in composite materials, and thus Graphene 3D Lab was spun-out of Graphene Labs.
Could you explain how you produce graphene and the challenges of scaling up graphene production?
Graphene can be produced by a variety of methods – for our purpose, graphene nanoplatelets are used, which are produced by splitting graphite. Fortunately, scaling graphene-nanoplatelet production is not an issue for us at this time. Rather, we are focused on scaling up the methods used to manufacture conductive, graphene-enhanced 3D printing filaments.
Currently, we can manufacture 1-2 kg of conductive graphene filament per day; however, we have just completed expansion of our production line, and will soon be able to manufacture up to 10 kg per hour of conductive graphene filament. The challenge has been to find the proper blend of thermoplastic material and graphene material in order to give our filaments a high level of conductivity without losing processability by 3D printers.
I had seen one of your TED Talks on the graphene 3D printing process, are you currently using FDM printing? Could you explain if you are building your own printer or will your process work with other supplier’s printers?
Our current line of 3D printing materials are used in FDM printing. Our materials are compatible with printers on the market today, aside from 3D printers which lock-in consumers to using filaments owned and licensed by that printer company. However, we anticipate that we will need to develop a proprietary multimaterial 3D printer in order to take full advantage of our material capabilities.
You had recently filed a patent for 3D printed batteries, could you speak as to how that would change the battery make up? What will that mean for the future?
Our goal is to develop materials which enable 3D printers to print functional devices. One important step to achieve this is to develop the capability for 3D printers to print energy storage devices – this is why we are developing IP to enable 3D printed batteries. As interest in 3D printing continues to grow, not just on a consumer level but on an industrial level, there will be growing interest in the ability to 3D print completely functional devices. Our IP related to 3D printed batteries is one step towards a future where printing functional devices is possible.
Will 3D printing of graphene have specialized ways of working with the material rather than traditional graphene sheets?
Our conductive filaments require graphene nanoplatelets to be embedded in a traditional 3D printing thermoplastic filament, so we are not using CVD graphene (what may more classically be visualized as graphene sheets). The graphene nanoplatelets enable conventional thermoplastic filaments to become conductive, and to be used for 3D printing circuitry, sensors, and other parts of devices which require conductivity.
We intend on continuing to expand upon our material offerings with other types of functional filaments in the future.
Do you have any major university or industrial partners who are using samples or developing particular applications with your material or process?
Graphene 3D Lab was originally founded after collaboration between CEO Daniel Stolyarov, co-founder Michael Gouzman of Stony Brook University, and myself, so we have close ties to the local Stony Brook University.
We also are working with various industry leaders to determine how our functional filaments and material expertise can be used in their projects. The response from industry regarding our materials has been overwhelmingly positive.
What kinds of investment has your company received? Could you sketch out your companies 5 and 10 year goals?
Graphene 3D Lab is publicly traded under the stock symbol GGG on the TSX-V exchange. I cannot offer an exact number as we have just moved to the next round of financing this month, but our total investment has been about $2.5 million.
As our conductive filament has moved out of the R&D stage and into commercial production, our short term goal is to commercialize our conductive filament and become revenue-generating. In the long-term, we aim to develop an ecosystem around 3D printed functional devices; this possibility is hindered by the limitations of the current generation of 3D printers. In order to achieve our long-term goal, we plan to develop a proprietary 3D printer and a range of compatible materials as part of the aforementioned ecosystem.