Bio Graphene Solutions is pioneering a process to create high-quality graphene using an organic source, which can be used as a carbon-reducing performance enhancer for concrete.
The company, founded in 2021, has 10 to 12 employees spread across its headquarters in Toronto and an innovation centre in nearby Cambridge. It spent four to five years developing the technology, according to co-founder and CEO David Fisher.
The firm started by producing graphene from waste wood biochar – carbon-rich residue resulting from pyrolysis – but it discovered another organic source that produces higher-quality graphene.
Mike Stein, vice-president of business development, told SustainableBiz the process is clean from start to finish and also produces high-quality graphene at a lower cost compared to its competition.
“When you have the ability to do that, markets such as concrete and asphalt, which were previously cost-prohibitive, now make sense. Before, companies were producing high-quality graphene but they could only do it in a lab, they couldn’t do it at scale . . . Through our process and what we do . . . we’ve proven we can go commercial,” he said.
How its graphene is made
Graphene is an atom-thin material composed of carbon which offers both great strength and conductivity. Its proposed applications range from sustainable concrete and asphalt, to better batteries and carbon capture filters.
One way graphene is produced is by taking mined graphite and exfoliating it with harsh chemicals, water and mechanical force.
Liam Farrell, COO of Bio Graphene Solutions and former vice-president of corporate development at graphene company Nanoxplore, said this process is expensive to scale, leads to batch inconsistencies and risks environmental harm.
Bio Graphene Solutions instead takes an unnamed organic material and subjects it to heat, pressure and mechanical force, creating graphene that is five carbon layers or less. It compares favourably to the definition of graphene at a minimum of 10 carbon layers or less.
Fisher said the process is patent-pending so the company cannot disclose certain details, but Farrell said its technology “allows us to think differently about the material.”
It does not require graphite, water or acid, is completely thermomechanical, and the organic source is of “very high quality and high level of consistency,” Farrell said. It offers a controllable process that alleviates the need for liquids, leading to a more compact and efficiently designed machine.
The company can currently produce about one tonne of graphene annually in its lab-based facility.
An additive to cement
Bio Graphene Solutions is focusing on marketing its graphene powder as a performance additive to concrete, creating a graphene-based liquid admixture for commercial concrete mixes.
The company says it can increase the strength of concrete and remove approximately 15 per cent of the cement composition per cubic metre of concrete. This makes it an economical additive, it argues.
“We enable from a material savings perspective and we enable dollars to be saved, not tens of pennies,” Farrell said.
Another objective is to help the concrete, cement and asphalt industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Concrete is responsible for up to eight per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Using graphene to increase its strength cuts down on the overall amount of concrete which must be produced.
Farrell said the admixture can eliminate almost 55 kilograms of carbon dioxide per cubic metre of concrete. This is five times the performance of the next leading carbon removal technology on the market, based on white papers from groups including the Portland Cement Association.
The performance of its graphene was verified by third-party university labs in Canada and third-party customers. Concrete product testing was done in accredited labs including Englobe, CVB Engineering and Golder.
The company received positive feedback about both the product's quality and consistency, Farrell said.
Markets and fundraising
Bio Graphene Solutions is pursuing two strategies for primary and secondary markets for the product.
The primary market is concrete and asphalt, that can be supported internally. It is actively involved in product development with “large concrete companies,” including many of the top players in North America. Due to non-disclosure agreements however, Farrell could not offer specifics.
The secondary market would see graphene used as a performance additive in plastics, composites, batteries, coatings and water treatment.
One development partner is exploring using the graphene to lighten an electric vehicle, which helps the efficiency of its batteries without sacrificing its mechanical properties.
“At the end of the day, it’s a green source material, clean technology in the middle, and we enable sustainable decisions at the end," he said.
Bio Graphene Solutions is also exploring the generation of carbon credits and believes it should be eligible for carbon credit mandates.
Fisher said the company is seeking up to $5 million in new funds to elevate production from one tonne per year to 20 to 30 tonnes per year.
Stein said as a result of its product testing, Bio Graphene expects more announcements over the next four to seven months related to the concrete market.