January 17, 2011

Despite the early excitement with applications of new forms of carbon, and a huge amount of federal government funding over the last decade or so, C60/CNT commercialization has mostly been a bust.  Using nanotubes as simple mechanical components of composites in applications like golf clubs is unlikely to move the needle for VCs – you are replacing an inexpensive component/fiber with a relatively expensive one for an incremental bump in performance.  Same for sensors – lots of new materials can be a sensor..  To be fair, materials technologies are hard to commercialize, many are incremental or simply introduce another set of tradeoffs (limiting applications) and others depend on large plants making something in huge quantities in order to get the cost down.

I think graphene could see faster commercialization than C60/CNT’s have for high value applications in optical and electrical properties and, if it can be made cheaply, maybe as a material for managing heat flow.  Lots of interesting progress is being made in university and corporate labs.  We have started to see a few interesting deals and I would be interesting in seeing more (but I don’t think mechanical composites or sensors are the right applications unless Graphene has an unexpectedly large performance enhancing, or cost reducing, effect.)

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