Graphene is shaping China's high-tech dreams
China is now the global leader in patents and publications related to carbon nanotubes and graphene research and manufacturing, accounting for about 47 percent of the total patents, the National Physical Laboratory in the United Kingdom said on Wednesday.
But experts warned that an oversupply in lower-grade graphene may occur in the near future as a result of aggressive capacity expansion in the country.
Carbon nanotubes are tubular cylinders of carbon atoms that have extraordinary mechanical, electrical, thermal, optical and chemical properties. Graphene is the thinnest and strongest substance known to mankind and is a carbon derivative.
Ivan Buckley, graphene project manager at the National Graphene Institute of the University of Manchester, said China needs to be cautious on the excessive production of lower-grade graphene products, which generally do not have the same quality as higher-grade ones in terms of conductivity.
"The huge reserves of graphite are probably one of the reasons why there has been a surge in the lower-grade graphene capacity," he said during the 2015 international graphene innovation conference, a three-day meeting in Qingdao, Shandong province.
Graphene is still largely unknown by the general public, but the material, a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms, which is tougher than a diamond, has the potential to change every aspect of modern life. It is developed from graphite.
Experts said with its high levels of conductivity and flexibility, graphene is set to revolutionize many industries, including sensors, batteries, conductors, electronics, solar panels, energy generation and biologics.
China has about 75 percent of global graphite reserves and accounts for 72 percent of the world's total capacity. It can become a strategic industry for China, however, only if it can fully commercialize graphene.
Experts said China will need at least 12 years to reach that target, given that it took two decades for copper to be used in semiconductors. But that process may be shortened as the graphene industry has got strong backing from the government.