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Cleveland-area's GrafTech has feet planted squarely in both old and new economies

GrafTech International has one foot planted solidly in the past and the other in the future. The combination seems to be a winner.

The Parma-based company built its early reputation by supplying arc lights to Cleveland in the early 1900s -- making that city the first in the U.S. with electric street lights. Later, the company made it big in steel-making and continues to be a leading producer of graphite electrodes used in arc furnaces.

While industrial materials -- primarily steel-related graphite products -- constitute 85 percent of GrafTech's sales, the company is emerging as a high-tech innovator in Ohio's new economy.

Beginning in the 1970s, the company began working on products needed to drive a fuel-cell powered car, says Lionel Batty, GrafTech's director of research and product development. Today, 75 percent to 85 percent of all fuel cells -- including one inside the Buckeye Bullet 2, a speed-setting hydrogen fuel cell-powered car designed by Ohio State University engineering students -- have GrafTech components, he says.

But just in case you aren't using fuel cells, let's bring it down to earth. A pioneer in thin-film graphite, which is 50 percent more thermally conducive (meaning cooler) than copper and four times lighter, GrafTech has probably made its way into your home.

"Almost all cell phones have our material in them," Batty says.

And if you have a laptop computer or panel display television purchased in the past two years, chances are it's got GrafTech inside, too.

GraftTech's new economy efforts have attracted the attention of state-funded programs like the Ohio Third Frontier, which has provided funding for both fuel cell development and graphite nanocomposites for next generation electronics.

Source: Lionel Batty, GrafTech
Writer: Gene Monteith

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