If you’re serious about Korea, send the boss17th May '16
Hazel Davis meets an ambitious company taking graphene technology east. Its CEO explains how you build relationships
Company: Haydale Graphene Trading in: Korea, Taiwan, China Sector: Industrial chemicals
Haydale Graphene could be described as a micro-business, because everything it deals with is tiny – apart from its ambition.
Graphene came to the world’s attention in 2010, when two Manchester University scientists won the Nobel Prize for Physics for demonstrating the exceptional properties of this allotrope of carbon, which comes in the form of a honeycomb lattice one atom thick.
As one of those scientists, Andre Geim, has put it: “It’s the strongest material ever measured; it’s the stiffest material we know; it’s the most stretchable crystal. That’s not the full list of superlatives, but it’s pretty impressive.”
Ray Gibbs, chief executive of Haydale, explains: “A single sheet of graphene is almost invisible, more conductive than copper, stronger than steel on an atom-by-atom basis. If you put three million sheets together it would be only 1mm thick.”
“The culture in Korea is that if they don’t see the CEO they will assume you aren’t really interested”
Carmarthenshire-based Haydale, which started working with carbon in 2007, launched the UK’s first commercially available conductive graphene ink – used for printing electronic circuits – in ¬2013.
It changed its name to Haydale Graphene Industries in 2014 and floated on AIM, the Stock Exchange’s market for smaller companies, raising £6.6m for expansion and investment in the Far East.
Haydale takes fine-powder graphitic material several layers thick, treats it using a patented process and adds it to resins involved in the manufacture of various composite materials. It is an area where the $90bn market is showing 8 per cent compound annual growth.
“Adding this carbon-based nanomaterial into resin, we have seen a significant improvement in its mechanical performance,” Gibbs says. This brings incredible potential for reducing weight at much lower costs.
Moreover, graphene-based conductive inks can be recycled – a huge environmental advantage over silver inks, which are also much more volatile in price.
The company has also collaborated recently on building the first composite graphene car body panel, which can withstand much greater impacts. “The composite industry is vast and complex,” says Gibbs. “It’s in aircraft, general transportation and visible virtually everywhere you go.”
While the company is working in Europe and America, the real action is in the Far East. Gibbs first visited Korea in 2014 after the AIM flotation.
He says: “The industry is dominated by these giants – Samsung and LG – and I felt there were enormous opportunities to add nanomaterials to the things they were doing.” There is also an enormous capability to print biomedical sensors using graphene-based ink.
The Koreans have a “can-do, no-nonsense approach,” says Gibbs. “They get things done and move quickly. It’s very energising and quite refreshing, even if it’s a challenge for UK companies to cope with.”
Underneath Samsung and LG are some significant players, the driving force of the supply side, with whom Haydale is now working.
When the company exhibited at NanoKorea, a three-day nanotechnology symposium in July 2014, it was the only British business there.
“I was staggered,” says Gibbs. So Haydale set about developing relationships with the tier-one supply-chain companies and began to visit the country more regularly.
“The culture in Korea is that if they don’t see the CEO they will assume you aren’t really interested,” he says. “When the head of the business turns up they get the sense there is real desire.”
Turnover is still under £2m, but Gibbs believes the opportunities are massive. The company set up a sales and marketing office in Seoul last year, with two staff, who are in daily contact with him. There are plans to increase staffing as demand grows. There is also an agent in Taiwan and plans to expand into Malaysia and Singapore.