At a TEDx event in Hermosillo, Mexico early in May, Phoenix-based Urbix Resources co-founder and chairman, Nico Cuevas, heralded in the Graphene Age.
“We are entering a new era,” Cuevas told a full and enthusiastic audience at the Auditorio del COBACH. What is coming, Cuevas says, is a “wave of innovation that will allow a social and economic development only comparable to the Industrial Revolution.”
As Cuevas points out, graphene makes possible the next level of technological development, including conductive inks for the production of ultra thin and ultralight circuitry, radically thin mobile phones, super-light bulletproof vests, water purification membranes, light and highly efficient batteries and other innovations.
The challenge, Cuevas stresses, is that, while the demand for this super-material is growing at a phenomenal rate as ever more high tech uses are found, at present, “the graphene market has a huge bottleneck: industrial scale production.”
By popular estimate, in 2016, only a few hundred kilograms of graphene were produced world-wide. And much of that, Cuevas maintains, was not even pristine graphene, but a different substance called graphene oxide.
“In reality,” says Cuevas, “it is very difficult to compare graphene oxide directly with graphene due to the fact that the production processes and applications can be very different.” That said, Cuevas is clear on what is better. “Imagine you go to the most prestigious vineyard in the world and order a bottle of their best vintage. You buy the bottle, take it home, open it, and then realize that what they sold to you was a purple juice with mashed grapes, something that is not wine yet. That in my opinion is graphene oxide.”
Urbix Resources, the company Cuevas co-founded in 2014, currently “has the monthly capacity to produce eight kilograms of pristine graphene” in the company’s state-of-the-art lab in Mesa, Arizona.
According to international graphene production estimates, Cuevas says, that could be half of what was produced worldwide last year. More, says Cuevas, their methods are green and the company uses “a graphite purification method that doesn’t use hydrofluoric acid, a graphene exfoliation with poly-ionic liquids that are 95-percent recyclable, and has an efficiency of 97-percent.” And that production capability is growing.
In addition to the Mesa-based lab, Urbix has a milling facility in Hermosillo, Mexico where the company is mining the source material for what Cuevas feels are some of the highest grade graphite products currently available.
The company recently completed their second round of financing and is moving into position to take their place as one of the top graphene-producing organizations in the world.