The company, founded in 2011, is using atmospheric-pressure chemical vapour deposition to produce graphene on continuous tapes of copper foil passed through a growth region. This eliminates the need for an expensive vacuum furnace and enables fabrication of graphene films larger than the furnace size.

The funding will allow the firm to show that these sheets can be transferred from the metal catalyst to nearly any smooth surface without any high-temperature steps and without the use of harsh chemicals. It's also worth noting that the transfer process preserves the original metal substrate for reuse, which both lowers production costs and reduces waste.

Attracting investment

The award is part of the NSF's Small Business Innovation Research programme, which recognizes "transformational technology with significant societal or commercial impact" – a phrase that could almost be a tagline for graphene, or at least that’s the hope.

Governments, especially in Europe and the US, are looking expectantly at graphene to drive economic growth and create new jobs, but some analysts are calling for a more cautious outlook when assessing the potential market.

Paige Boehmcke, senior product manager at Graphene Frontiers, acknowledges both perspectives and adds that what the market is waiting for is applications.

"The market for material alone, for example for research and development, is definitely overstated," she told nanotechweb.org's sister site, TMR+. "We will not see a dramatic increase in graphene demand until applications such as flexible electronics come to market."

The thinking is that as graphene quality and affordability increase following improvements in production, companies will invest in bringing these applications to market. Other uses highlighted by Boehmcke as a particularly good match for roll-to-roll graphene include desalination membranes, and high-sensitivity chemical and biosensors.

•  This story first appeared on our sister site TMR+, a blog focusing on the steps needed to translate discoveries in materials research into market-ready products and devices.