U.K. graphene startup went public in an attempt to be first to market

In a race to capitalize on an emerging market, a graphene startup made its debut on a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange today.

The share price rose from 155.5 to 216 pence–about $3.50. With a market cap of roughly $42 million, Applied Graphene Materials is too small for the main market.

“The reason for IPOing now is we want to be one of the first to market,” CEO Jon Mabbitt said to The Register. “To get there we need the resources. We feel we’ve got the IP and this initial use of funds is to take us to a modest level, a low-risk scale-up.”

Graphene is a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms that is stronger than diamond and more conductive than silicon. It has major potential applications in computing, touch screens, solar panels and strengthening additives. But commercializing it has been difficult due to production costs and difficulty scaling the material to commercial amounts.

AGM has a patented system for production. It makes graphene in a powdered form, which can be added to other materials to increase their strength, conductivity or other related properties. Mabbitt told CNBC that the company plans to use the IPO funds to scale from producing 1 ton to 8 tons of graphene per year. Eventually, it could increase to 50 tons annually.

AGM is not the first company to attempt to commercialize graphene, and there will likely be many more as the science behind the material improves. Graphene was first created in a lab in 2002 at the University of Manchester. Since then, production techniques have improved from prying chunks of graphene off of pencil graphite with a piece of tape to systems that pull it out of the air in hot furnaces. Eventually, rolls like those used to print newspapers could be utilized to make huge sheets of graphene.

The U.K. has made commercializing graphene a major national goal. Yesterday, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation announced a $100,000 grant for a team at the new National Graphene Institute in Manchester to create safer and more comfortable condoms made of a blend of graphene and latex.

“We (the British) are good with the initial materials, but other people are better at seeing applications. … We have to be careful with graphene, otherwise it is one of those things that we just let go,” Mabbitt said to CNBC.