On a property covering nearly 4,000 acres of pristine Canadian wilderness roughly 100 miles northwest of Montreal, Quebec, Lomiko Metals laid claim to the Quatre Milles. It's a very important piece of ground as it's the location for a group of graphite-bearing structures with high-carbon flake graphite found very near the surface.
Graphene, considered the holy grail material which will form the core of the next generation of a wide-range of technologies, is said to be the potential bridge towards ultra-durable materials, superconductors and superior storage devices.
From a scientific standpoint, it's described as a material entirely composed of carbon atoms and very similar to graphite, but as graphite is a crystalline arrangement containing around 3 million layers of graphene, graphene itself is a nearly two-dimensional crystal with the thickness of a single atom. Each of those atoms are arranged in a hexagonal honeycomb with just 0.1 nanometers between each atom and a thickness of only 0.3 nanometers.
Highly conductive, strong and possessing a high specific surface area, graphene is being studied around the world. Australian and Irish researchers have already created a graphene oxide yarn they say can be used "in a wide range of applications, from clothing that monitors the wearer's environment for dangerous chemicals, to furnishings that alter their appearance in response to ambient light levels."
At this very moment, there are more than 10,000 patents pending around the world for graphene technologies and processes.
So what's the big deal about a Canadian graphite mine? Lomiko say it will serve a booming market for graphene materials in the 3D printing space. The company recently formed an alliance with Graphene 3D Lab bent on developing high-performance, graphene-enhanced materials designed specifically for 3D printing applications.
"Our involvement in Graphene 3D Lab is a concrete first step into the world of graphene, 3D printing and printed electronics," says Lomiko Metals CEO, Paul Gill. "This is a rapidly developing new market for high quality natural graphite. One of the barriers to widespread use of graphene is the cost of producing it in useable forms. Lomiko will provide graphite to Graphene 3D Lab as the exclusive supplier. Novel materials based on graphene open new markets for natural graphite. These new markets are expanding at an extraordinary rate."
And there's good reason to be bullish on graphene as the Next Big Thing in 3D printing materials development.
Graphene has some remarkable properties. It boasts very high-conductivity, flexibility and excellent resistance to chemical intrusion. And if you think it might be some sort of "flavor of the month" in materials development, think again. For their work in discovering the unique properties of graphene, researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov won the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics.
But it's the fact that graphene-enhanced nanocomposite materials can vastly improve various characteristics of plastics and other traditional materials which will fast-track commercial applications of the technology. The addition of graphene and nanomaterials to polymers is likely to be used to build functional devices in the very near term.