As material science advances, one of the more exciting developments over the last several years has been that of the utilization of graphene, a super-material which is extremely lightweight, strong, and electrically conductive. We have only scratched the surface of what could be tens of thousands of potential applications for the carbon-based material.
Additive manufacturing is also furthering the development of materials with interesting new properties. Where graphene and 3D printing meet the opportunities and possibilities are staggering. At this intersection is a relatively new company, a spinoff of Graphene Laboratories, Inc., called Graphene 3D Lab (TSX-V: GGG, OTCQB: GPHBF, Frankfurt: G31). The company is at the forefront of material science involving the 3D printing of graphene. The CEO of Graphene 3D Lab, Daniel Stolyarov, was kind enough to discuss his vision of the company, the future of graphene 3D printing, and his thoughts on the market in general. Below you will find our questions followed by his detailed answers.
What drives you as the CEO of Graphene 3D Lab?
I am thrilled to lead a team which is developing a truly disruptive manufacturing technology. I am also passionate about developing our technology, and serious about commercializing it. It is a privilege to use my scientific expertise in a way that can be useful to many others.
Working to develop research and commercialization partnerships as well as creating synergy with others is also one of my favorite aspects of my role at Graphene 3D. We regularly communicate with other companies, big and small, which is usually a very positive experience.
While our materials are currently under development, we plan to begin offering them to customers within the next few months. I look forward to receiving feedback on our materials and seeing what creative applications users come up with for the materials.
How far off are we from affordable 3D printable graphene filaments?
Our first product will be electrically conductive graphene enhanced filaments for FFF 3D printing. These filaments will allow users with multi-material 3D printers (printers with multiple print heads) to print conductive components in a one-step process; the capability to do so is an important step towards 3D-printable electronics.
We have already manufactured benchtop samples of graphene-enhanced 3D printing filaments with repeatable results. We are currently in the process of scaling up the manufacture of these materials. Our team is an estimated few months away from offering affordable graphene-enhanced 3D printing filaments to clients.
Our proprietary conductive materials will not be quite as inexpensive as standard PLA and ABS. However, very little graphene-enhanced material will be necessary in a given print, considering that it is used mostly for conductive circuitry. Thus, our conductive filaments will be quite affordable.
What are the other materials used within your nanocomposites?
Our general approach is to take 3D-printable materials, such as thermoplastics used in FFF 3D printing, and to use them as a matrix for incorporating nanomaterials. These nanomaterials give the matrix functional properties, such as electrical or thermal conductivity. The result is a nanocomposite material.
Aside from the matrix and functional nanomaterials, our nanocomposites also include several proprietary components. These components properly adjust the mixability of the nanofiller, and assist in improving the processability of our nanocomposites.
Where do you see the market for 3D graphene printing in 5 years?
Graphene is a very important nanofiller, as it modifies the matrix in a variety of ways; graphene gives filaments electrical and thermal conductivity, improves the mechanical strength of the polymer, and improves its resistance to fatigue.
I believe 3D printing with conductive filaments is the next frontier in 3D printing. Conductive filaments can be used to create touch-sensors, electronic wiring, heatsinks, and a range of other applications. From our experience, graphene is the material of choice for manufacturing conductive 3D printing filaments for FFF.
The next step for graphene-enhanced 3D printing will be creating conductive materials for use in other 3D printing technologies, such as SLA and SLS. We expect that graphene is likely to also have a role in these markets as well, and we are looking forward to applying our expertise to these related 3D printing technologies.
Graphene nanoplatelets are also an important component for creating the cathode and anode of our 3D-printed battery. Our 3D printed battery may be printed in any shape to easily fit the design of a device, and I believe there will be wide range of innovations in this space in the future.
What’s the biggest potential use for 3D printable graphene?
Right now, I would expect that the biggest potential use for graphene-enhanced filaments is in printing wires. It is something that you do not see very much of, because until our recent progress, it has been difficult to manufacture a proper conductive filament. We have already printed several prototypes of objects which can be printed with conductive tracks, or 3D printed “wires,” made of our graphene-enhanced filaments.
The long-term potential in this space is something I am particularly enthusiastic about, especially for emerging technologies like the Internet of Things. When I envision an Internet-of-Things scenario, I imagine the world connected, from the handle on a door to the server that may one day help manage my home. However, we must be realistic about one obstacle in achieving all of this: the need for wires. It is an expensive and time-consuming process to wire and embed electronics into most objects. If we can embed electronics and circuitry in the same process that an item is being manufactured, it will greatly reduce costs. Conductive 3D printing may be the first step towards truly achieving an Internet of Things.
There are a range of other more near-term applications as well. These include manufacturing touch-sensors and heat sinks.
Will Graphene 3D Lab sell filaments mainly to manufacturers, or will we be able to print with graphene on our MakerBots and Ultimakers anytime soon?
It is our intention to make our filaments compatible with FFF 3D printers which are currently on the market. When developing formulations for graphene-enhanced filaments, we are also working to make the properties of the filament close to that of ABS and PLA, as they are commonly used for FFF printing. The only problem that I can envision is the tendency of large manufacturers of consumer FFF printers to lock the materials by making 3D printing materials which have RF tags only compatible with their printers.
However, the convenience of compatibility of our filaments with popular 3D printers comes at a price. By mimicking the properties of commonly used 3D printing thermoplastics, we are also limiting the functional performance of our materials, which is an artificial constraint.
As your readership is well aware, there are over a dozen print parameters which can completely alter the outcome of a 3D print, if not finely tuned to a specific material. In the future, we intend to develop a 3D printer which is more dynamically optimized to work with a range of 3D printing materials. From our perspective, 3D printing is both a technology for home users and for industries alike. Only by offering a machine which is optimized to offer quality prints, every time, can we hope to capture the industrial market on top of at-home enthusiasts, who may be more forgiving when it comes to tinkering with settings.
Further, it will be important to create a printer which can print with multiple materials simultaneously. This will allow us to combine a variety of our materials in one 3D printing process, thereby having the ability to 3D print functional devices. The current capabilities of 3D printers with multiple print heads are quite limited.
What are you most excited about in regards to your company’s future?
I believe that 3D printing is truly revolutionary to manufacturing, and my role in developing new innovations in this space motivates me as well as everyone else at Graphene 3D Lab.
Our goal is not to play a passive role in these developments, but to be at the forefront of this industry. Our long-term objective is to create a wide range of materials with a variety of functional properties, allowing users to print nearly any type of gadget they can imagine.
Stolyarov told us that his company will be launching a web store within weeks, allowing both you and me easy access to purchase any of their line of products. It will still be several months, however, until graphene-enanced filaments is offered. Stay tuned to Graphene 3D Lab’s website for further details. Discuss this interview with us in the Daniel Stolyarov forum thread on 3DPB.com.
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