The UK establishes a Graphene Innovation Group, explains how graphene assists business goals

Following a Global Business innovation Programme initiated in 2019, and a collaborative visit to the US, the UK established a new Graphene Innovation Group (UK-GIG) that puts together 15 specialists from UK companies that together share many years of experience in graphene and expertise across the entire value chain.

UK-GIG group photo, Boston

Scott Storey, a Business Innovation Advisor at Inventya and the lead coordinator at the UK-GIG, explains more about the group - "We can take an everyday industrial challenge, apply our combined graphene knowledge, engineer and manufacture an effective solution, and take that solution to national and international markets. UK-GIG is now an established cohort of 15 UK-based graphene companies, ranging from early stage through to established businesses. The UK-GIG companies are fully aware of the huge potential for graphene technology to improve materials or be used in novel ways across multiple sectors. They are seeking collaboration opportunities where they can combine their expertise to do what they do best - solve problems, design graphene applications, and help commercialize an increasingly exciting field. They aim to make the UK the best place on earth to be grafting in graphene!"

We have reached out to some of the GIG members, to find out how has graphene effected their business and products, and the effects of graphene on their materials or devices.

First up is Christoph v. Bieberstein from HexagonFab, which develops biological sensors based on graphene. The company is a spin-off from the University of Cambridge.

Christoph, many people have doubts about the benefits of graphene in real-life applications. How has graphene affected your product?

We are developing a biosensor based on graphene. The graphene has enabled a much higher sensitivity for our sensor.

What benefits do you see from graphene that you cannot get elsewhere?

Enabling a very sensitive sensor for point-of-care/on-site analysis. Without graphene this type of measurement would require a dedicated lab for analysis. Now we can run the same analysis in a portable handheld device, enabling new uses cases.

Next we have James Martin, a materials development engineer at Kemtron, experts in RFI/EMI shielding.

James, Many people have doubts about the benefits of graphene in real-life applications.

I believe the doubts surrounding graphene arise from the lack of exposure to everyday solutions involving the utilisation of graphene. Ultimately the Science and data behind graphene is so convincing, it is only a matter of time before graphene resolves a significant problem within a suitable industry, leading to further revelations within product development. I feel that the general opinion on graphene leads to a chicken and egg scenario, where the scepticism surrounding graphene applications, hinders the development of new innovative applications for the material.

How has graphene affected your product?

We currently have only identified an opportunity to utilise graphene within our product range (Electromagnetic shielding materials and components). Published literature shows that graphene can provide significant benefits within shielding applications and we are currently looking for an opportunity conduct feasibility trials in conjunction with an external partner.

What benefits do you see from graphene that you cannot get elsewhere?

The significant electrical & thermal conductivity can provide benefits within our products that we supply into the electronics, defence and aerospace industries. Typically the existing product offering is based on metallic materials which are dense, graphene provides an opportunity for us to significantly reduce the density of our products whilst maintaining product performance. This could be highly beneficial within aerospace applications. The change in nature of the material from a metallic basis to graphene could also provide significant life-span improvements for our products. as typically the metals involved degrade and are subjected to galvanic corrosion over longer time periods. Whilst we currently out in place protection mechanisms for these materials, graphene could potentially contribute to greatly reducing (or eliminating) these effects and is something we would be interested in exploring in the future.

Next we have Dr Aphrodite Tomou from GoodFellow, a global supplier of materials for research and development:

Graphene, due to its remarkable mechanical, electrical and thermal properties, finds applications in a variety of sectors, such as energy storage, electronic devices, composite materials for aerospace engineering, or even used as filter due to a large surface area for water desalination.

Goodfellow’s ultra-pure Green Graphene, specifically, is guaranteed metal-free and can be uniquely applicable in metal-sensitive processes. Research areas where Goodfellow’s graphene has been tested include coatings for wear resistance or low friction surfaces, bioengineering and sensors. In addition, it has been used in research projects for 3D printing engineering and product development.

Green Graphene nanoplatelets are very thin and slightly crumpled and they do not stack, ensuring optimal electrical, thermal and mechanical performance. Thus, Goodfellow’s graphene product, also being free from metal impurities, is an extremely good nanofiller suitable for electronic inks, polymers, metal composites and coatings, or even for drug delivery and medical applications.

Unfortunately, Goodfellow cannot disclose any research projects of our customers.

At this point, I would like to thank and acknowledge Innovate UK for providing GBIP delegates with a great networking opportunity in Boston, through the MRS conference and several carefully organised meetings. During the trip, not only did we find potential partners for collaboration in the USA, we also established trustworthy relationships among us. In fact, Goodfellow has already initiated collaborations with several members of the team.

Next we have Shamon Ratyal from biotechnology developer BWG Planet.

Shamon, many people have doubts about the benefits of graphene in real-life applications. How has graphene affected your product?

At BWG Planet Ltd here in the UK, we are exploring the use of Graphene within the development of a new Biocomposite material for the construction industry. Our material is designed to reduce the drain on natural resources through conventional material usage and the toxic polluting effect on the environment at the end of the product's life cycle.

What benefits do you see from graphene that you cannot get elsewhere?

Graphene offers a way of improving the mechanical structures of a range of organic materials (e.g. pectin, calcium carbonate, starch to name just a few ) by improving the photonic, thermal, electrical properties and water vapor barriers within them. Recent research indicates that solution casting maybe a way to achieve this.

Next up we have Hubert Meissel from Amalyst, which develops graphene-enhanced platinum-based fuel-cell catalysts.

Hubert, many people have doubts about the benefits of graphene in real-life applications. How has graphene affected your product?

So graphene has slightly increased the price of our products and has generated more characterisations and development on this new product (more money was spent on R&D).

What benefits do you see from graphene that you cannot get elsewhere?

Graphene gave us 10% more activities and 50% less degradations (longer life time of our products). High conductivity was gain with graphene too.

Next we have Jas Kandola, from The Graphene Corporation, a producer of graphene, graphene oxide and graphene composites:

We have successfully developed some nanocomposite materials where graphene is a key ingredient. These composites are being used to improve the performance of a number of consumer products which we are looking to launch during this year.

Graphene has remarkable properties which can be used to develop nanocomposites for various applications. One of our key findings is that it is very difficult to integrate graphene with other nanomaterials to achieve performance improvements in specific applications. However, the research being carried by leading institutions and companies globally show that the possibilities are very exciting and it is only a matter of time before we see significant impact of graphene in key applications.

We expect the cost of producing graphene to reduce significantly over the next 2 years, this is partly due to more companies being launched and developing advanced methods and equipment. This would be a big step towards the development of commercially viable products. Our expectation is that graphene will become a key material in driving the development of high performing products.

Finally we have Stephen Hodge from Versarien, an advanced materials group.

Since we are manufacturing graphene and developing it's applications, we see graphene affecting materials in all sorts of ways, often unexpected. In a lot of cases we are seeing improvements in mechanical reinforcement of fibre reinforced polymers, thermoplastic or elastomeric composites, but frequently we are also observing additional benefits and new functionalities. We still see some demand in niche high-end sports equipment (Bromley Sports skeleton used by Team GB in the 2018 Winter Olympics) and now also see increasing interest in mainstream consumer products (MediaDevil Artisanphonics CB-01 Earphones) as we scale our production processes and develop our application R&D further.

In our work with AECOM, for example, we have developed a graphene/polymer feedstock for a 3D printed additive manufactured CNCT Arch for the railway sector. Here, we have utilised graphene as both a mechancial reinforcer for lightweighting these structures, but have been able to print faster due to enhanced thermal properties and impart improved UV stability to the composite material with graphene inside.

Here at Graphene-Info we wish to thank all participants in this article, and also Scott Storey from Inventya who helped immensely. If anyone wishes to understand graphene better, we recommend our Graphene Handbook, a guide to the industry and market of graphene materials, no in its sixth edition (released in March 2020).

Posted: Mar 19,2020 by Ron Mertens