Mark Thompson dumped his plans for a gold mine to pursue a fortune in graphite, the same stuff used in pencils for centuries.
But he isn’t so interested in old-school writing instruments. Thompson’s Talga Resources Ltd. plans to convert high-grade graphite from Sweden into a material called graphene, which is stronger than steel, conducts electricity better than copper and is so light and flexible that companies like Samsung Electronics Co. are using it to develop new devices.
Graphene was discovered in 2004 by two British scientists who used Scotch tape to extract atom-thin layers of pure carbon from flakes of graphite, earning a Nobel prize for their work. While the market for it is still emerging, Talga’s effort to profitably produce the material could open commercial uses from batteries and touchscreens to smart clothing and building materials.
“We’re making grams a day in the lab, and if they can make tons a year, it would be a huge step forward,” said Laurence Hardwick, who researches graphene for the Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy at the University of Liverpool. “If Talga can generate the volumes that they say they can, it should provide a good opportunity to substantially produce graphene at scale.”
Thompson, Talga’s 49-year-old managing director and largest shareholder, caught the graphite bug at a Hong Kong mining conference in 2011. Participants were celebrating the outlook for lithium used in next-generation batteries being gobbled up by manufacturers like Tesla Motors Inc. to Apple Inc. What grabbed his attention was that the biggest component in the batteries — the graphite coating wires and anodes.
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