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Graphene: The Game-Changing Material of the Future

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Technology is only as good as the materials it is made from.

Much of the modern information era would not be possible without silicon and Moore’s Law, and electric cars would be much less viable without recent advances in the material science behind lithium-ion batteries.

That’s why graphene, a two-dimensional supermaterial made from carbon, is so exciting. It’s harder than diamonds, 300x stronger than steel, flexible, transparent, and a better conductor than copper (by about 1,000x).

If it lives up to its potential, graphene could revolutionize everything from computers to energy storage.

Graphene: Is It the Next Wonder Material?

The following infographic comes to us from 911Metallurgist, and it breaks down the incredible properties and potential applications of graphene.

Graphene: The Game-Changing Material of the Future

While the properties and applications of graphene are extremely enticing, there has one big traditional challenge with graphene: the cost of getting it.

The Ever-Changing Graphene Price

As you can imagine, synthesizing a material that is one atom thick is a process that has some major limitations. Since a sheet of graphene 1 mm thick (1/32 of an inch) requires three million layers of atoms, graphene has been quite cost-prohibitive to produce in large amounts.

Back in 2013, Nature reported that one micrometer-sized flake of graphene costed more than $1,000, which made graphene one of the most expensive materials on Earth. However, there has been quite some progress in this field since then, as scientists search for the “Holy Grail” in scaling graphene production processes.

By the end of 2015, Deloitte estimated that the market price per gram was close to $100. And today, graphene can now be ordered straight from a supplier like Graphenea, where multiple products are offered online ranging from graphene oxide (water dispersion) to monolayer graphene on silicon wafers.

One producer, NanoXplore, even estimates that graphene is now down to a cost of $0.10 per gram for good quality graphene, though this excludes graphene created through a CVD process (recognized as the highest level of quality available for bulk graphene).

The following graphic from Nature (2014) shows some methods for graphene production – though it should be noted that this is a quickly-changing discipline.

Graphene Production

As the price of graphene trends down at an impressive rate, its applications will continue to grow. However, for graphene to be a true game-changer, it will have to be integrated into the supply chains of manufacturers, which will still take multiple years to accomplish.

Once graphene has “real world” applications, we’ll be able to see what can be made possible on a grander scale.

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Energy Shift

Rare Earth Elements: Where in the World Are They?

Rare earth elements are the critical ingredients for a greener economy, making their reserves increasingly valuable to global supply chains.

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Rare Earth Elements Reserves

Rare Earths Elements: Where in the World Are They?

Rare earth elements are a group of metals that are critical ingredients for a greener economy, and the location of the reserves for mining are increasingly important and valuable.

This infographic features data from the United States Geological Society (USGS) which reveals the countries with the largest known reserves of rare earth elements (REEs).

What are Rare Earth Metals?

REEs, also called rare earth metals or rare earth oxides, or lanthanides, are a set of 17 silvery-white soft heavy metals.

The 17 rare earth elements are: lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), lutetium (Lu), scandium (Sc), and yttrium (Y).

Scandium and yttrium are not part of the lanthanide family, but end users include them because they occur in the same mineral deposits as the lanthanides and have similar chemical properties.

The term “rare earth” is a misnomer as rare earth metals are actually abundant in the Earth’s crust. However, they are rarely found in large, concentrated deposits on their own, but rather among other elements instead.

Rare Earth Elements, How Do They Work?

Most rare earth elements find their uses as catalysts and magnets in traditional and low-carbon technologies. Other important uses of rare earth elements are in the production of special metal alloys, glass, and high-performance electronics.

Alloys of neodymium (Nd) and samarium (Sm) can be used to create strong magnets that withstand high temperatures, making them ideal for a wide variety of mission critical electronics and defense applications.

End-use% of 2019 Rare Earth Demand
Permanent Magnets38%
Catalysts23%
Glass Polishing Powder and Additives13%
Metallurgy and Alloys8%
Battery Alloys9%
Ceramics, Pigments and Glazes5%
Phosphors3%
Other4%
Source

The strongest known magnet is an alloy of neodymium with iron and boron. Adding other REEs such as dysprosium and praseodymium can change the performance and properties of magnets.

Hybrid and electric vehicle engines, generators in wind turbines, hard disks, portable electronics and cell phones require these magnets and elements. This role in technology makes their mining and refinement a point of concern for many nations.

For example, one megawatt of wind energy capacity requires 171 kg of rare earths, a single U.S. F-35 fighter jet requires about 427 kg of rare earths, and a Virginia-class nuclear submarine uses nearly 4.2 tonnes.

Global Reserves of Rare Earth Minerals

China tops the list for mine production and reserves of rare earth elements, with 44 million tons in reserves and 140,000 tons of annual mine production.

While Vietnam and Brazil have the second and third most reserves of rare earth metals with 22 million tons in reserves and 21 million tons, respectively, their mine production is among the lowest of all the countries at only 1,000 tons per year each.

CountryMine Production 2020Reserves% of Total Reserves
China140,00044,000,00038.0%
Vietnam1,00022,000,00019.0%
Brazil1,00021,000,00018.1%
Russia2,70012,000,00010.4%
India3,0006,900,0006.0%
Australia17,0004,100,0003.5%
United States38,0001,500,0001.3%
Greenland-1,500,0001.3%
Tanzania-890,0000.8%
Canada-830,0000.7%
South Africa-790,0000.7%
Other Countries100310,0000.3%
Burma30,000N/AN/A
Madagascar8,000N/AN/A
Thailand2,000N/AN/A
Burundi500N/AN/A
World Total243,300115,820,000100%

While the United States has 1.5 million tons in reserves, it is largely dependent on imports from China for refined rare earths.

Ensuring a Global Supply

In the rare earth industry, China’s dominance has been no accident. Years of research and industrial policy helped the nation develop a superior position in the market, and now the country has the ability to control production and the global availability of these valuable metals.

This tight control of the supply of these important metals has the world searching for their own supplies. With the start of mining operations in other countries, China’s share of global production has fallen from 92% in 2010 to 58%< in 2020. However, China has a strong foothold in the supply chain and produced 85% of the world’s refined rare earths in 2020.

China awards production quotas to only six state-run companies:

  • China Minmetals Rare Earth Co
  • Chinalco Rare Earth & Metals Co
  • Guangdong Rising Nonferrous
  • China Northern Rare Earth Group
  • China Southern Rare Earth Group
  • Xiamen Tungsten

As the demand for REEs increases, the world will need tap these reserves. This graphic could provide clues as to the next source of rare earth elements.

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Electrification

Electric Car Companies: Visualizing the Race for EV Dominance

Tesla was the first automaker to hit a $1 trillion market cap, but other electric car companies have plans to unseat the dominant EV maker.

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Visualizing the race for EV Dominance

Electric Car Companies: Eating Tesla’s Dust

Tesla has reigned supreme among electric car companies, ever since it first released the Roadster back in 2008.

The California-based company headed by Elon Musk ended 2020 with 23% of the EV market and recently became the first automaker to hit a $1 trillion market capitalization. However, competitors like Volkswagen hope to accelerate their own EV efforts to unseat Musk’s company as the dominant manufacturer.

This graphic based on data from EV Volumes compares Tesla and other top carmakers’ positions today—from an all-electric perspective—and gives market share projections for 2025.

Auto Majors Playing Catch-up

According to Wood Mackenzie, Volkswagen will become the largest manufacturer of EVs before 2030. In order to achieve this, the world’s second-biggest carmaker is in talks with suppliers to secure direct access to the raw materials for batteries.

It also plans to build six battery factories in Europe by 2030 and to invest globally in charging stations. Still, according to EV Volumes projections, by 2025 the German company is forecasted to have only 12% of the market versus Tesla’s 21%.

CompanySales 2020 Sales 2025 (projections)Market cap (Oct '21, USD)
Tesla499,0002.8M$1.023T
Volkswagen Group230,0001.5M$170B
BYD136,000377,000$113B
SGMW (GM, Wulling Motors, SAIC)211,0001.1M$89B
BMW48,000455,000$67B
Daimler (Mercedes-Benz)55,000483,000$103B
Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi191,000606,000$39B
Geely40,000382,000$34B
Hyundai -Kia145,000750,000$112B
Stellantis82,000931,000$63B
Toyota 11,000382,000$240B
Ford 1,400282,000$63B

Other auto giants are following the same track towards EV adoption.

GM, the largest U.S. automaker, wants to stop selling fuel-burning cars by 2035. The company is making a big push into pure electric vehicles, with more than 30 new models expected by 2025.

Meanwhile, Ford expects 40% of its vehicles sold to be electric by the year 2030. The American carmaker has laid out plans to invest tens of billions of dollars in electric and autonomous vehicle efforts in the coming years.

Tesla’s Brand: A Secret Weapon

When it comes to electric car company brand awareness in the marketplace, Tesla still surpasses all others. In fact, more than one-fourth of shoppers who are considering an EV said Tesla is their top choice.

“They’ve done a wonderful job at presenting themselves as the innovative leader of electric vehicles and therefore, this is translating high awareness among consumers…”

—Rachelle Petusky, Research at Cox Automotive Mobility Group

Tesla recently surpassed Audi as the fourth-largest luxury car brand in the United States in 2020. It is now just behind BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz.

The Dominance of Electric Car Companies by 2040

BloombergNEF expects annual passenger EV sales to reach 13 million in 2025, 28 million in 2030, and 48 million by 2040, outselling gasoline and diesel models (42 million).

As the EV market continues to grow globally, competitors hope to take a run at Tesla’s lead—or at least stay in the race.

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