Start the conversation
My wife Robin and I were just getting Joey ready for dinner and then bed a week ago Sunday evening when the phone rang. Robin made a face, but answered it anyway, and handed the handset to me saying: "It's long-distance from Manchester."
I knew just who it was – a foreign telemarketer looking to hit me up for a cash donation.
Back in 1983, while I was working toward my BA in Journalism at Penn State, I was chosen for the "J-School's" annual foreign-studies program at the University of Manchester in Great Britain. Although about two dozen PSU students were chosen each year, it was still viewed as an honor: There was a competitive process involved – including interviews and an essay – and the program included some mini-internships with newspapers, magazines and other media outfits there in England.
Penn State did this for more than three decades. The experience opened a lot of doors for me – personally and professionally – so I was happy to take the call … even though I knew the talk would culminate with a pitch for money.
But here's why I'm sharing this story.
The caller was a young Manchester student named Josh Wheway – who actually proved to be an exceptionally bright kid. In the process of going through the usual "How was your time at Manchester?" and "Don't you think your time here has benefitted you?" sort of stuff that sets you up for the fundraising kill, Josh asked what I was now doing for a living.
I told him, of course, all about Money Map Press and Private Briefing – and about the work that I do for all of you.
That's when he asked: "If you're an investments columnist, have you written about graphene?"
"Funny you should ask," I told Josh – and went on to tell him that we view this particular "Miracle Material" as one of the most exciting investment plays on our radar screen.
We're busy just trying to find ways to really profit from it, I told him.
And that got Josh The Foreign Telemarketer From Manchester really excited, too.
A Direct Connection
Graphene, you see, has a very big – and very direct – connection to the Manchester region.
As APS News, the journal of the American Physical Society tells the tale, back in 2003, Andre Konstantin Geim – a Russian-born Dutch-British physicist working at the University of Manchester – took "a block of graphite, some Scotch tape and a lot of patience and persistence and produced a magnificent new wonder material that is a million times thinner than paper, stronger than diamonds, [and] more conductive than copper."
Geim – along with his colleague Kostya Novoselov – had invented graphene. In 2010, the two researchers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Work is now underway on the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester. Construction started last July and construction workers are nearly halfway through the 66-week project. The five-story facility will be completed next year, when it will serve as the axis for an entire universe of Miracle Material research.
So even a University of Manchester undergrad like Josh feels his pulse quicken when he thinks about what graphene will mean to the community he lives in.
Just as I know what graphene will mean for investors – once it's finally commercialized.
But as we've mentioned in all of our Private Briefing reports on this material – including one just a few weeks ago – commercialization has been the big challenge.
Now researchers are claiming a "breakthrough." And I'd heard about it just a few days before this telephone conversation I've been telling you about.
It's a big reason I seem to have graphene on the brain right now – and it's actually an intriguing development – so let me share it with you.
A New View?
Just a few days before my call from "across the pond," the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) announced it had developed "a breakthrough synthesis method" of producing graphene – igniting hope that this will pave the way for a much-quicker commercialization of this Miracle Material.
The results of that research were published in the respected journal Science.
"This is one of the most significant breakthroughs in graphene research in history," researchers said in a Samsung-released statement. "We expect this discovery to accelerate the commercialization of graphene, which could unlock the next era of consumer electronic technology."
It's clear that Samsung views graphene as a perfect material for next-generation devices. But it's not clear whether the company will make this breakthrough discovery public, or will view it as a proprietary process. And the decision could affect how quickly graphene reaches broad commercial status.
Either way, we're talking about pretty dramatic science.
In partnership with Sungkyunkwan University, the Samsung research institute has found a way to synthesize large-area graphene into a single crystal on a semiconductor, keeping its electric and mechanical properties as well. The new method repeatedly synthesizes single crystal graphene on the current semiconductor wafer scale.
As Samsung sees it, the material's flexibility, high heat conductibility and durability makes it the perfect candidate for small, wearable devices, and devices with flexible displays. If the company can figure out how to produce this stuff in commercial volumes, it could create new types of devices, and engineer new ways to interact with those devices. A graphene-based phone could be charged in mere seconds. And a computer built around a graphene-based semiconductor would be faster than anything you can even imagine.
As we told you last year, graphene is amazingly "conductive" – so much so, in fact, that a graphene-based transistor was clocked at 427 GHz.
That's smoking fast – let's describe it as kind of Chuck-Yeager-first-breaking-the-sound-barrier fast.
If you had a graphene-based microprocessor running at that speed, it would be 300 times faster than the 1.3 GHz microchip that runs an 11-inch MacBook Air¸ BusinessWeek writer Sam Grobart said in an article back on Aug. 20.
If you dig around a bit, you can find other anecdotes just like this – each of them giving a glimpse of graphene's potential for paradigm-shifting greatness. Back in 2011, for example, Northwestern University researchers developed a silicon-and-graphene batter that the university claimed could "lead to a cellphone that "stayed charged for more than a week and recharged in just 15 minutes." A year later, the American Chemical Society said graphene-related advancements were leading us toward touch-screen electronics that "could make cellphones as thin as a piece of paper and foldable enough to slip into a pocket."
Airplane manufacturers believe that graphene will be a key component in their jets – thanks to the fact that it's lighter and stronger than anything now available. Car companies are taking it a giant step beyond that – and are "exploring building electronic cars with bodies made of graphene that are not only protective, but act as solar panels that charge the car's battery," The New York Times said last week. Airline makers also hope to build planes out of graphene.
And now we have Samsung's reported synthesis breakthrough, which Extreme Tech journalist Sebastian Anthony described to The Times as the possible "Holy Grail of commercial graphene production."
Follow the Money – But Where?
For investors like us, all these reports of the greatest new material since plastics have been both exhilarating – and perhaps a bit of a tease.
The reason: Because the material has yet to be commercialized, there still aren't many ways to play it for profit.
Right now, in fact, the most-direct way is still GrafTech International Ltd. (NYSE: GTI), which we originally recommended back in May 2012.
The Parma, Ohio-based GrafTech has 125 years' of experience with carbon- and graphite-related technologies. It's involved in such high-growth businesses as energy storage, semiconductors, fuel cells, lubricants, electronics and aviation.
Best of all: GrafTech is a leading global holder of patents for graphene. And with graphene research zooming, we expected the company would be seeking to cash in on its "Miracle Materials" know-how.
GrafTech shares have zoomed 15% since we re-recommended it to you back on Feb. 28 – a terrific showing given what the broader market has done during the same stretch.
And while we don't take our lead from Wall Street and its supporting set, we never mind seeing an affirmation of an idea we've already given to you: I happened to see that CNBC analyst and market impresario Jim Cramer gave it his personal stamp of approval during a "Lightning Round" session back on March 25.
"The business is good," Cramer said. "It's a fine stock."
In the near-term, a proxy fight we told you about in our most recent report is moving forward – despite management's attempts to snuff it out – and the company is scheduled to report earnings on Thursday.
The allure of graphene is clear: It's 20 times stronger than diamonds and is 200 times more muscular than steel – all while being six times lighter than that key industrial metal.
Graphene is one form (an "allotrope" in the lexicon of science) of carbon. Other allotropes include diamonds, charcoal and … graphite – which some analysts have referred to as the "Black Gold of the 21st Century" because of is many potential uses.
And a graphite-related investment that we've been following is also worth a look. The company, Tasman Metals Ltd. (NYSE: TAS), is an exploration-stage "Miracle Materials" player that was most recently featured in the March 12 report "This $1 Stock Gives You the "Black Gold of the 21st Century'."
Tasman, a junior miner of sorts, has the potential to be involved in such hot markets as graphite and rare-earth elements (REEs). Miracle Materials – the engineered compounds that are gaining traction in tech, industry, healthcare and consumer products – is one of the big areas of growth that we talk about a lot here at Money Map Press.
It's obviously a more-risky stock than GrafTech, which also occupies the riskier end of the investment spectrum. So you might want to consider a "split entry" – where you spread your intended position out over two or three purchases – to manage your risk and reduce your average purchase price in case of a market sell-off.
We'll be watching both of these going forward – and looking for new opportunities, and new technological breakthroughs – besides.
After all, you never know where the next Big Idea might come from.
Even a foreign telemarketer can serve as inspiration.
Have a great week.
[Editor's Note: Unless otherwise specified, we recommend investors employ a 25% "trailing stop" on all holdings.]
- Private Briefing: This $1 Stock Gives You the "Black Gold of the 21st Century."
- The New York Times: Bend It, Charge It, Dunk It: Graphene, the Material of Tomorrow.
- Science: Wafer-Scale Growth of Single-Crystal Monolayer Graphene on Reusable Hydrogen-Terminated Germanium.
- Private Briefing: A Bullish Case For the Best Graphene Stock You'll Find.
- Private Briefing: It's Finally Time to Profit From This "Miracle Material."
- Private Briefing: Here's Why This 'Super Junior Miner' Rocketed 24% on Monday