Graphene isn’t that new. It’s been around in one form or another since the 1960s – but only in laboratories. The current excitement is because there is now the ability to manufacture graphene on an increasingly large scale and it now has the potential to improve the efficiency of many existing products – especially in the medical, technology and scientific fields. In other words, graphene is close to being commercialised.
From what I can gather, graphene is a material that can exist in a layer only one atom thick – that makes it 2-d for all intents and purposes. Viewed under a microscope, its hexagonal structure makes it particularly strong. Check out all the amazing properties of graphene that can, apparently, be made from the graphite contained in a humble pencil.
It’s all the more impressive since micro-electronics innovation is currently out of fashion in Europe. I heard that last bit on a science programme on TV last night. The bloke who said it was an important German scientist with mad scientist hair who spoke with a zealous passion about his work. That makes him the real deal in my book.
Apparently the race is on to make graphene commercially viable. The front runners in the UK are spin-out companies from the University of Durham and the University of Manchester.
The older method of making graphene is using ‘exfoliating’ method which is essentially using sticky tape to peel thin layers off a larger block. The other method, pioneered by scientists at Durham University, involves collecting the chemical vapour.
Graphene is currently produced by four companies. Another company manufactures ink containing graphene and another makes ultracapacitors with graphene electrodes.
I’ve long held a share called Versarien (VRS) which invests in university spin-out companies and generally incubates and helps them on the rocky road to maturity. I have followed VRS for the last 3 years.
The share price has been volatile but the underlying business seems solid with plenty of cash at hand. The investment strategy appears thoughtful and conservative. The business does not seem to court publicity and, for the moment, I like that.
I invest on the understanding that most of the spinouts will fall by the wayside but it just takes one or two game changers to change everything. It’s also nice to think that something amazing will come from one of our hallowed institutions of higher learning.