Harnessing the Superpowers of Graphene

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I first heard of graphene earlier this year on a discussion board, where someone essentially asked, "People say it's going to be huge, but what is it and how can we profit from it?"

The answer to the first question is a bit easier than the second, because two scientists at the University of Manchester in Great Britain first discovered it and won a Nobel prize for it. So that means no publicly traded company is going to have a lock on it, but that's not stopping them from patenting how its being used. Everyone from IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) and Samsung to Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) are rushing to tap its incredible properties.

It's elementary
OK, so what exactly is graphene? It's a carbon-based substance and as such gives diamonds a run for the money as being the hardest substance known to man. (It's actually harder.) Yet it's lighter than down fluff, it can conduct electricity better than copper, and even at a thickness of just one atom it can serve as the lattice for powering chips while being both flexible and transparent. Graphene is being hailed as a miracle substance.

Already scientists are imagining the possibilities of what can be done with the material: Charge your cell phone in 30 seconds, or, better yet, fully recharge your electric car's batteries in an hour. 

Faster than a speeding bullet
As explained in the following video, a battery stores a lot of energy, but it charges and discharges slowly. A camera's flash bulb, on the other hand, doesn't have much storage, but it charges and discharges very quickly. Graphene combines those two features into a sort of supercapacitor that has lots of energy storage and charges and discharges very fast. Yet because it's carbon-based, it doesn't harm the environment.

IBM was the first to use the material to create graphene-based integrated circuits back in 2011, having created the year before a graphene processor that could execute 100 billion cycles per second (100GHz). Intel and Samsung are now looking into graphene-based processors, while Nokia is part of a consortium of 74 companies that received a grant of $1.35 billion from the European Union to figure out how to use graphene to "improve the world." It's experimenting in electronics and mobile communications.

A needle in a haystack
Yet try to invest in any one of these companies to get exposure to graphene, and you're taking a pretty circuitous route and only nibbling at the corners. Perhaps a better route might be looking at producers of graphite, as that's the material from which graphene is made. Unfortunately, most of the mineral is produced in China. It produces some 800,000 metric tonnes annually, making it the 800-pound gorilla in the space, with the next closest producer being India at 130,000 metric tonnes. It's not even mined in the United States.

While there are a few foreign companies or micro caps that are involved in graphite production, GrafTech International (UNKNOWN: GTI.DL  ) may be the best avenue for investors to take, as it's the leading producer of graphite electrodes and was one of the top 20 graphene patent holders at one time, ahead of such giants as General Electric and Bayer. Yet it's been pretty dormant in the space since 2006 as newer entrants have become more active.

Patently absurd
Graphene may become a product so generic that no one company profits from it, even if it goes on to create enormous advances in technology and science that benefit us all. Because the development is so new, it's an exciting field that bears watching, but we would be wise to remember that there have been other scientific "miracles" that didn't pan out. Carbon nanotubes once held similar promise, but I have yet to see any space elevators being built just yet.

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Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (14)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 11:56 AM, JackAfter6 wrote:

    I have to completely disagree on the graftech recommendation. They may be a solid company but they're not supplying graphene today and I don't see any evidence that they ever will. The most prevalent method of graphene production is chemical vapor deposition. None of the graphene production methods requires graphite. If you want to invest in graphene today you should look for the biggest graphene application patent holders today. The two with the most patents are Samsung and IBM. Graf-Tech? Absurd!

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 3:35 PM, JoeMiddleclass wrote:

    Is this a paid for "news" story by Motley Fool to get clients? I have noticed that since the "NEW" yahoo home page has started there are dozens of these "news" stories from Motley Fool which end up promoting their financial advice. SHAME ON YOU YAHOO!!!!

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 4:06 PM, ahoythere wrote:

    Motley Fool, you rock!!! Keep on bringing informative stories to the internet, so I can choose what interests me to invest in.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2013, at 7:23 PM, spankleelee wrote:

    Lockheed's new technology of making salt water drinkable uses a graphene filter. I think you might want to look there

  • Report this Comment On April 09, 2013, at 2:11 PM, Retirefunds wrote:

    I agree with your recommendation of Graftech as I recently purchased that stock. I also hold stock in junior graphite miners Focus Graphite and Flinders, as their deposits highly suitable to the graphene market.

    Regarding comments by "Joemiddleclass" above, Yes chemical vapor deposition is used in graphene production however, it is about 3 times more expensive than using high grade graphite as the original source material.

    Also looking at other high grade deposits of graphite incl. Northern Graphite, Zenyatta and Lomiko Metals. Mostly penny type stocks with big risk/reward potential. I take the shotgun approach to such investing.

  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2013, at 2:05 PM, apaulgill wrote:

    I am with a micro-cap company called Lomiko Metals (TSX-V: LMR, OTC: LMRMF) which has recently signed a Strategic Alliance Agreement with Graphene Labs of New York. I was recently in Washington at the TechConnect Conference and one of the things that jumped out at me was how busy the Graphene Labs table was compared to many other graphene companies there.

    I think graphene will definitely make an impact but there are many groups that are earnest but not capable or capable but not earnest. Buyers beware. We have all the right stuff in the ground (high carbon content graphite) and the right partner in Graphene Labs (who work with Stony Brook University in developing supercapacitors) yet it is difficult for us to find long term investors who see the coming graphene revolution and are able to find us. Graphene Labs owns which is one of the few places that sells graphene for laboratories online. They have 5000 customers full of Fortune 500 companies, governments and agencies.

    Our public company has the exclusive right to purchase an equity stake in Graphene Labs and we would welcome scrutiny from the right people.

    We are asking people to dig deeper and take a look.

    Best Regards,

    A. Paul Gill

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