Photons are faster than electrons. This has lead scientists to see if they can harness light (photons) to operate an integrated circuit. While this should result in faster circuits, there’s a hitch: wavelengths of light are much larger than the dimensions of today’s computer chips. The problem is that you simply can’t compress the wavelengths to the point where they work in these smaller chip-scale dimensions.
Scientists have been leveraging a new tool lately to shrink the wavelengths of light to fit into smaller dimensions: plasmonics. Plasmonics exploits the waves of electrons—known as plasmons—that are formed when photons strike a metallic structure. Graphene has played a large role in this emerging field because it has the properties of a metal—it’s a pure conductor of electrons.
The Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, which has been a leader in this field for years, is now reporting they have taken the use of graphene for shrinking the wavelengths of light to a new level. In research described in the journal Science, ICFO researchers have managed to confine light down to a space one atom thick in dimension. This is certainly the smallest confinement ever achieved and may represent the ultimate level for confining light.
The way the researchers achieved this ultimate confinement was to use graphene along with one of its two-dimensional (2D) cousins: hexagonal boron nitride, which is aninsulator.
By using these 2D cousins together, the researchers created what’s known as van der Waals heterostructures in which monolayers of different 2D materials are by stacked on top of each other and held together by van der Waal forces to create materials with tailored electronic properties—like different band gaps for stopping and starting the flow of electrons. In this case, the layers included hexagonal boron nitride layered on top of the graphene and then involved adding an array of metallic rods on top of that. This structure had the graphene sandwiched between an insulator and a conductor. The graphene in this role served to guide the plasmons that formed when light struck the outer metallic rods.
In the experiment, the ICFO researchers sent infrared light through devices made from the van der Waal heterostructures to see how the plasmons propagated in between the outer metallic rods and the graphene.
To get down to the dimensions of one atom for confining the light, the researchers knew that they had to reduce the gap between the metal and the graphene. But the trick was to see if it was possible to reduce that gap without it leading to additional energy losses.
To their surprise, the ICFO researchers observed that even when a monolayer of hexagonal boron nitride was used as a spacer, the plasmons were still excited by the light, and could propagate freely while being confined to a channel of just on atom thick. They managed to switch this plasmon propagation on and off, simply by applying an electrical voltage, demonstrating the control of light guided in channels smaller than one nanometer of height.
The researchers believe that these results could to lead a new generation of optoelectronic devices that are just one nanometer thick. Down the road, this could lead to new devices such as ultra-small optical switches, detectors and sensors.
The Mobile World Congress (MWC) held annually in Barcelona, Spain is one of the largest technology conferences in the world. For the last three years, the MWC has been hosting the Graphene Pavilion that showcases the research institutes and technologies that they have developed under the EU’s Graphene Flagship.
The Graphene Council visited the Graphene Pavilion last month in Barcelona and we came back with some videos. One of the anchor institutions at the Pavilion is The Institute of Photonics (ICFO) located just outside of Barcelona. The Graphene Council has been speaking to Frank Koppens at ICFO since 2015 about how graphene was impacting photonics and optoelectronics.
In our latest visit with them at MWC this year, we got an update on some of the ways they are applying their technologies to various technologies.
In the one shown in the video below, the researchers have developed ultraviolet (UV) sensors for protecting the wearers from overexposure to the sun.
What the ICFO discovered six years ago was that while graphene generates an electron-hole pair for every single photon the material absorbs generates, it doesn’t really absorb that much light. To overcome this limitation of graphene, they combined it with quantum dots with the hybrid material being capable of absorbing 25 percent of the light falling on it. When you combine this new absorption capability with graphene’s ability to make every photon into an electron-hole pair, the potential for generating current became significant.
The ICFO has been proposing applications like this for this underlying technology for years, and producing working prototypes. At the MWC in 2016, the ICFO was exhibiting a heart rate monitor. In that device, when a finger is placed on the photodetector, the digit acts as an optical modulator, changing the amount of light hitting the photodetector as your heart beats and sends blood through your fingertip. This change in signal is what generates a pulse rate on the screen of the mobile device.
This same basic technology is at the heart of another technology ICFO was exhibiting this year (see video below) in which the graphene-based photodector can determine what kind of milk you are about to drink. This could conceivably be used by someone who has a lactose intolerance that could threaten their lives and by using the detector could determine if it was cow’s milk or soy milk, for instance.
While ICFO goes so far as to discuss prices for the devices, it’s not clear that ICFO is really committed to any of these technologies for its wide-spectrum CMOS graphene image sensor, or not. In the case of the heart monitor, the researchers claimed at the time it was really just intended to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology.
The long-range aim of the technology is to improve the design of these graphene-based image sensors to operate at a higher resolution and in a broader wavelength range. Once the camera is improved, the ICFO expects that will be used inside a smartphone or smart watch. In the meantime, these wearable technologies offer intriguing possibilities and maybe even a real commercial avenue for the technology.
Needless to say, an entirely new class of photodetectors—based on proton transport as opposed to all current photodetectors today that are based on electron transport—is a pretty significant development. You add on to this the fact that the photodetectors made from graphene are 100,000 times more responsive than silicon and you have the basis of a transformative technology.
What regular readers of The Graphene Council may have missed earlier this month in an Executive Q&A with Jeffrey Draa, CEO of Grolltex, was that we got some indications in that interview that the technology being developed in Geim’s lab is ramping up for commercial applications.
Draa said in the interview: “…we’re also starting to get some inquiries for an application that actually Dr. Andre Geim at the University of Manchester, who, of course, was the discoverer of graphene was very passionate about. This is one of the very first applications that he thought futuristically would really make the world a better place, and that third application that we're starting to see on the horizon is graphene as a proton exchange membrane in a hydrogen fuel cell.”
Draa in this interview points to the initial applications that were discussed almost four years ago for this graphene-based proton exchange membrane. At the time, Geim had discovered that contrary to the prevailing wisdom that graphene was impermeable to all gas and liquids it could, in fact, allow protons to pass through. This made scientists immediately conjure up the proton exchange membranes that are central to the functioning of fuel cells.
While there’s no reason to think that these graphene membranes won’t someday make for excellent proton exchange membranes for fuel cells, the problem is that fuel cells are not exactly ubiquitous. However, photodetectors certainly are ubiquitous, making for a much larger potential market for these graphene membranes.
Of course, it’s a pretty big step to make these graphene membranes go from being used for fuel cells to being used in photodetectors. So how did this application switch occur?
The University of Manchester scientists started with monolayer graphene decorated with platinum (Pt) nanoparticles. In operation, photons (light) strike the membrane and excite the electrons in the graphene around the Pt nanoparticles. This makes the electrons in the graphene become highly reactive to protons. This, in turn, induces the electrons to recombine with protons to form hydrogen molecules at the Pt nanoparticles. This process mimics the way in silicon-based photodetectors operate based on electron-hole recombination.
While there are similarities between the semiconductor approach to electron-hole recombination, the photon-proton effect used in this graphene membrane would represent a big departure from the previous approach and nobody is quite sure what the implications might be.
However, it is clear that this graphene membrane that Grolltex is working on with the scientists at Manchester may have a new set of applications that extends far beyond just typical membrane-based technologies.
Last month, The Graphene Council's Executive Director, Terrance Barkan, and its Editor-in-Chief, Dexter Johnson, had the opportunity to have a talk with the CEO of California-based Grolltex Inc., Jeffrey Draa, about the company's business strategies in bringing graphene products to market and his views on graphene's future. Here is that conversation.
Could you tell us a little bit about the background of GrollTex. How did the company get started and how did you get involved with graphene? In particular, could you provide the history of Grolltex as a company?
Sure, so the name Grolltex is short for graphene rolling technologies and the brief history of the company is that my partner and co-founder and really the inventor, Dr. Alexander Zaretski, was a researcher at University of California San Diego.
He was involved with graphene growth andreally got deep into graphene manufacturing techniques while he was at the University of California San Diego. One of the issues with this specific kind of graphene, as generated by chemical vapor deposition (CVD), of course, is the ‘transfer’ issue: How does one get single-layer graphene synthesized from copper off of the copper growth substrate and onto a substrate of interest without destroying the copper growth substrate? Of course, the current state-of-the art is to either acid etch the copper off of CVD graphene, or to use an electrolytic solution to sort of bubble the graphene off of the copper and have it rise to the top after a long period of time.
So both of these two processes, which had been state-of-the art, impact the copper in a very negative way so it's very expensive and not manufacturable. And my partner, Alexander, decided if graphene is going to go forward, there has to be a way to manufacture graphene and not destroy or impact that copper.So he came up with a process to do that, a process that has a rolling schema where we reuse that growth copper over and over again. So that's kind of the background of the company. Alex had decided that he wanted, and felt so passionately about, this transfer technology and bringing it to graphene manufacturing that after completing his work as a researcher at UCSD, he broke out on his own and he asked me if I would be the business side of the company and he had the technical side. So that's kind of a brief background of Grolltex and how we came to be.
I understand you’re privately held company, correct?
We are, yes. We were funded roughly a year and a half ago with our seed funding and we've since about six months ago taken another round.
In terms of your graphene manufacturing that you just laid out, as you said you focused on producing single-layer graphene of the highest quality, so what are the markets that this product offering opens up to you? And what do you see as your strongest market now and do you see that market changing five years from now?
Well, as anybody that has knowledge of the graphene markets knows, single-layer high purity graphene like that synthesized via CVD has many theoretical use cases. We see on the short-term horizon three particular applications that are really kind of starting to command our attention. Those three are number one: sensing. So graphene given its electrical and mass properties makes an excellent sensor at a very, very small level. So sensing is number one.
We also are doing some work in the advanced solar cell arena and we have a grant from the California Energy Commission where we're working on a two-sided solar cell where graphene not only plays the part of barrier material but it's also the electrode material. So that's really exciting.
And for number three we’re also starting to get some inquiries for an application that actually Dr. Andre Geim at the University of Manchester, who, of course, was the discoverer of graphene was very passionate about. This is one of the very first applications that he thought futuristically would really make the world a better place, and that third application that we're starting to see on the horizon is graphene as a proton exchange membrane in a hydrogen fuel cell.
So those are kind of the three leading candidates we see right now. We’re judging that by some initial business that we’re getting in those areas.
You were discussing a number of applications you are pursing, including sensors. On your website you talk about enabling sensors that could be used for the Internet of Things. Can you explain why you see graphene playing such an important role in the development Internet of Things?
I’ll speak a little about graphene as a sensor material. When you combine the electrical conductivity properties along with the fact that graphene is one atom thick, you've got the potential for a sensor that could take us into the future for the next hundred years. We have patents around some designs of graphene-based sensing materials that are so sensitive that, for example, in the biotech world we had some bioengineering folks at Stanford use our sensor to sense the ability of individual heart cells to contract. Currently there only exists a different kind of test that can only count the number of contractions, but our sensor is so sensitive that it picks up the strength of contraction of the individual heart cell when it beats and it's a very robust signal; there's no mistaking it. So that's just one example of the potential of graphene as a sensor and we're seeing good activity there.
What is consistently your biggest challenge when you're talking to potential customers and convincing them how to use your product? Are they worried about pricing of graphene, the quality of product, a consistent supply chain? What stands out as one of the key issues that keeps coming up when you're speaking to these people?
So, I think the first consistent theme would surprise no one,and it's price. Almost any inquiry goes down along the lines of price, especially for a field like solar. If solar is implemented it’s going to need miles and miles of cheap graphene. Now the case of a sensor is not quite as price sensitive, but with regards to the big kind of large applications people think about like flexible displays and some of the other big idea changes for graphene those are really price sensitive. So price is the first one.
We don't get too many concerns with regards to the supply chain. Quality of product is sometimes discussed and that's partly because graphene is such a new field. But a lot of folks have what they are calling graphene and maybe debatably it is not. We don't necessarily have that problem because no one argues that single-layer graphene made by CVD is not graphene, so we don't have any discussion of the quality, but that sometimes can be an issue. So to kind of summarize, and get back to your main question, really price is the first thing that people want and that's the first hurdle you have to get over with almost everyone.
In addition to your graphene product, you're also producing hexagonal boron nitride (sometimes called white graphene). How do you see this material filling out your portfolio and what are the applications for this material that you're currently targeting and do you expect to develop other two-dimensional materials?
Hexagonal boron nitride is something we’re very excited about for several reasons. For the folks that aren't familiar with hexagonal boron nitride, you need to understand how it works with graphene. Graphene is, of course, the most conductive substance known at room temperature; it's on the order of seven times more conductive than copper depending on who you talk to. So as a conductor, graphene is really unparalleled. Now if you're going to design an electronic device of any type, of course, you worry about a conducting material because you can make the wire, the battery, and the switch with the conductive material. But the other thing you have to worry about is the insulating material. What are you going to use for the insulation for graphene? You have to separate the layers of the devices and hexagonal boron nitride is as good an electrical insulator as graphene is a conductor. And hexagonal boron nitride has a hexagonal pattern when it is synthesized in the proper way and that pattern lines up perfectly with the hexagonal lattice pattern of graphene so it also provides the strength benefit too. So it is really the ideal cousin of graphene. If you're an electronic designer, you're going to want both a conductor and an insulator and now we're going to be delivering both.
So that answers your first question and your second question, which was “are we going to develop other two dimensional materials?” As far as basic building blocks, we are going to rest on graphene and hexagonal boron nitride for a time because again those are your two basic building blocks: you need the insulation and the conducting but we also are developing other materials that go into specific devices. So, an example of this is the sensors I talked about that require some precious metal in small quantity—atomic quantity.There are other materials involved when you go to make a specific device, but as far as the basic building blocks we're going to stand pat on graphene and hBN probably for a while.
What is your perspective on hybrid graphene materials? I am referring to this combination of a conductor and an insulator, or even a conductor with a semiconductor, and based on that will you look to develop those hybrids yourself or have your client make the next step in the value chain?
At the moment our clients are doing that work. Now I'm not going to say that we won't get into it, but we're going to be opportunistic with regard to that. With regard to opportunistic roads that we can go down today, our plate is pretty full, but there are several routes we can take. We are seeing folks in the semiconductor world, which is my background, starting to use other materials and creating devices out of some of those second and third level hybrids as you described and that's really exciting work. So we may get into some of that, but again we have a lot on our plate right now just based on what I described already.
I’d like to get your view of the overall industry over the short, middle and long term—five, ten, fifteen years expectations of graphene and the industry. And what is your strategy for best placing your company in the environment that you see developing?
With regard to our company, just saying the word “graphene” to a lot of people opens up so many thought patterns, channels and ideas that one of the things that's going to have to happen is the standards are going to need to be put in place fairly soon so that people can know what they're saying when they say “graphene”.
There's a lot of graphitic solutions out there and hybrids and powders and all kinds of things that debatably aren't graphene (of course, I would say that because of my company is involved in the area that there is no argument that it is pure graphene). But the point of that is we will need some standards and some nomenclature put in place to help take this whole field to the next level.
There's all kinds of great use cases for graphitic solutions that aren't graphene—great use cases, don't get me wrong—but let's make sure that we can assign proper nomenclature so people know what they are talking about and looking at. With regard to my company specifically, one of our challenges is picking our targets because again there are so many kinds of different opportunities. And when we first started out we decided we were going to have a two-phased approach to our business and we're doing the phase one part of that now.
Phase one for us is to make and sell graphene material as research material. So our core customer for our phase one is the university lab and commercial lab. So we sell graphene on copper substrates, on wafers, we sell graphene on customer specific substrates. You send us your substrate of interest and we’ll put our graphene on it and send it back to you. That phase one of our business that I just described to you is allowing us to pursue all kinds of exciting applications and some of them are helping us go in new directions. So, our challenge in the first five years I think is; number one stay on that phase-one path, get to profitability just as a business and number two really pick our paths carefully with regard to what are going to be the first real big market businesses out there in graphene—the ones that have paying customers.
So from a commercialization perspective, I think what you mention is that the majority, or is it basically all, of your customers are they in the testing or R&D category right now?
Yes, that’s fair to say. There's a population of big players in the industry that have their own graphene “skunkworks” that they're just not talking about. For example, I'm just going to throw some names around freely about big companies that we happen to know that do have graphene labs internally that it's just really very hush-hush. The reason we know this is because we know some of the people that have been hired out of other graphene places into these big companies. For example, Apple is one of them. They don't talk about it but they have a big graphene effort. Hewlett Packard is of one of those. Samsung is not bashful about their graphene efforts. So there are a lot of big companies where there is a lot of activity going on but nobody is talking about it so I think there's a lot more happening in graphene than people are even aware of because it’s not being leaked.
One of the things we’re very interested in doing as the Graphene Council is helping to act as a catalyst and accelerate commercialization.
One of the biggest obstacles to commercialization we’ve seen is simply the education of potential end users and consumers.Can you talk a little bit about that? I mean as a company trying to educate potential clients one by one is a time consuming and expensive proposition.
What are the some of the other vertical markets or specific application areas—you mentioned sensors, of course? Are there some other specific areas where you think there's good commercial opportunity where we can help educate those populations?
The first one that comes to mind is the display market. So the display folks, of course, have been using indium tin oxide (ITO) as their core material for decades. ITO is really not a great material for them; it's expensive, it involves dirty mining and it is very prone to pollution when getting it out of the earth. It's also brittle which is why everyone’s display on their phone, their laptop, their television, all displays are brittle; they're like glass.
Graphene is actually a plug and play replacement for ITO and graphene enables flexible displays. So, the first big use case I can think of and that would be the most exciting and the most impactful for the most people is ITO replacement for making flexible displays.
But also I think it’s a use case that's pretty far down the road. It’s very price sensitive for one reason and number two there is a huge infrastructure with multiple large multinational corporations already in place and has been in place for decades with a big manufacturing schema, billions of dollars all lined up to process ITO, etc.. That's not going to shut off overnight and just accept a graphene replacement, right? So, from a price perspective and from an implementation perspective there are some challenges with ITO replacement, but I think that it strikes me as the kind of area where we can start hammering away at some of the existing thinking.
The Graphene Council thanks Jeffrey Draa, CEO of GROLLTEX for his time and unique insights into the developing market for graphene.
Advanced materials company, First Graphene Limited (“FGR” ) has announced an update on its work with the Swinburne University of Technology (SUT) on the development of a new energy storage technology using graphene, referring to their new product as the "BEST™ Battery".
While it is generally accepted that lithium-ion batteries are the state-of-the-art energy storage device available for consumer products today, they are not without their issues. In particular, there are examples where they have been the cause of fires in some instances. There is a vast number of companies and research institutions working to provide safer, more reliable and longer life batteries which utilise materials other than lithium-ion. Some of these involve the use of graphene.
First Graphene, through its research and licencing agreements with Swinburne University of Technology, is pursuing a significantly different path to the development of the next generation of energy storage devices. Rather than trying to improve existing chemical battery technology, it is pioneering the field of advanced supercapacitors which have the potential to change the future for energy storage forever, particularly in handheld and consumer products.
Using the advanced qualities of graphene, First Graphene is developing the BEST™ Battery. This energy storage device promises to be chargeable in a fraction of the time and it will be fit for purpose for at least 10 times the life of existing batteries. It will be significantly safer and more environmentally friendly. All these improvements are made possible because the science relies on physics rather than chemical reactions, and on the remarkable properties of graphene materials.
The table below provides an interesting comparison of key operating parameters of the BEST™ Battery alongside existing lithium-ion batteries and existing supercapacitors available in the market. What is particularly noteworthy is the 10x increase in the energy density expected for the BEST™ Battery, when compared with supercapacitors currently on sale in the market place, and the much lower cost per Wh. These features will provide great commercial advantages.
Table 1: Comparison between BEST™ Target development and existing Li Ion AA Batteries and an existing commercial Supercapacitor.
While the exact details of the design and construction of the BEST™ Battery must remain confidential for reasons of commercial security, First Graphene have disclosed the process of manufacturing the battery involves the use of lasers to create nanopores in graphene-based materials which achieve energy densities more than 10x as great as the pre-existing technology. Practical matters being addressed include the scaling up to the size of the battery from simple laboratory demonstrations of the effectiveness of the science, to devices which will be effective substitutes for batteries used in a wide range of hand held consumer products.
The first few months of the BEST™ Battery development project entailed the recruitment of additional, highly qualified research scientists and the acquisition of specialised equipment needed to prepare and manufacture the components of the BEST™ Battery.
Work has commenced on the improvement of many design aspects in order to optimise the configuration of the battery, with the ultimate objective being to develop a product suitable for mass scale production. At the same time, the methodology of making the battery is being subjected to continuous experimentation to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the materials and processes used in the device. In addition, the pilot production line for building the BEST™ Battery prototype has been set up, which enables the manufacturing of the BEST™ Battery to meet industrial standards.
Swinburne recently reported that a single layer of the BEST™ Battery prototype that made by the pilot production line was able to sustain an LED globe for a period of 15-20 minutes with only a few seconds of initial charge. This is a very significant outcome, auguring well for the ultimate product which is intended to comprise much more than 100 stacked layers of graphene sheets.
The Ragone plot below tracks the continuing improvements in the performance of the BEST™ Battery.
Figure 1: Ragone Plot demonstrating the progress of the BEST™ Battery development toward its goal
Graphene-Based Flexible Smart Watch
The research being undertaken also involves the development of flexible batteries for smart watches which can be incorporated into the watchband itself. These will be light-weight and flexible, they will be able to be recharged in 1-2 minutes, and they will be fit for purpose for many tens of thousands of cycles. Information will be displayed not only on the watch face, but also on the band itself.
While it is intended that the BEST™ Battery development program will eventually provide suitable substitutes for many devices which currently used flat pack and cylindrical batteries, it will also provide batteries for new, innovative purposes. The thin profile of the Battery, and its flexibility, will make it suitable for use in clothing. It could also be integrated into smart watch bands, as an example, rather than having a solid block configuration. It is already showing excellent ability to convert kinetic energy into stored energy due to the speed at which it can charge i.e. simple movement of shaking can recharge the Battery.
Commenting on these progress, FGR’s Managing Director Craig McGuckin said:
“The demonstration of full scale commerciality of the BEST™ Battery will take time, but so far the results have been very encouraging. The science has been proved at laboratory scale and now we are advancing many aspects of materials used and design processes leading to the development and optimisation of production methodology. We are very pleased that Swinburne University of Technology has advised us that the pilot production line is a world first. We are confident that the advantages offered by our technology will bring revolutionary changes to how we use batteries in the future, with added safety, efficiencies and flexibilities. The BEST™ Battery will be a serious game changer”.
TALGA has made a number of noteworthy announcements recently as the company continues to advances its graphene business globally including the appointment of Dr Anna Motta to head up the Company's global graphene product research and development.
Dr Motta’s appointment as Talga’s Research and Development Manager will see her based in Cambridge with responsibilities including management of the Company’s wholly owned UK subsidiary, Talga Technologies Limited and Talga’s graphene product research and development projects globally. In this she joins Talga’s internationally renowned team of graphene technologists Dr Siva Bohm, Dr Mallika Bohm and Dr Sai Shivareddy. Dr Motta will also oversee the delivery of
scale up product developments at Talga’s test facility in Germany.
Dr Motta is an experienced nanomaterial program and technology manager. Her career includes science and management roles in carbon nanomaterial programs at the Helsinki University of Technology and, since 2005, the University of Cambridge, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy (UK). Since 2014, Dr Motta has held the position of Project Manager and Technology Transfer Officer for the Cambridge Graphene Centre (“CGC”) where her responsibilities included oversight of academic and industry collaborations with more than 100 institutions and companies across a large portfolio of UK-EU graphene projects and funding programs. Dr Motta holds a Master of Science (Chemistry) and a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry.
Talga Managing Director Mark Thompson commented: “We are delighted to welcome Anna to our senior management team. She brings a wealth of graphene industry, technology and management experience to Talga at this time of rapid growth in our vertically integrated graphene
business. We also look forward to further successful collaborations with the Cambridge Graphene Centre via their new management appointments.”
Cambridge Graphene Centre Director, Prof Andrea Ferrari, commented: “We are pleased that Anna is moving to Talga, one of the industrial partners of the Cambridge Graphene Centre and Associate Member of the Graphene Flagship. We welcome the strengthening of the Cambridge-based Talga activities on graphene, adding to the value chain of Cambridge-based advanced technology companies working on graphene innovation in close partnership with the CGC. We are also pleased Anna will become a member of our industrial advisory board."
Talga Resources Ltd has also announced the execution of a non-binding memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with Robert Bosch GmbH (“Bosch”) – a German based multinational engineering and electronics company.
Talga and Bosch have entered into the MOU to commence preparatory work regarding a development project in the field of utilising graphene in the synthesis of macroscopic structures. Talga Managing Director Mark Thompson commented, “Talga is excited to be working with Bosch on its graphene related applications. Bosch is a technology and manufacturing giant and we welcome formalisation of the relationship with them. Our intent is to leverage Talga’s strengths in graphene manufacture and dispersion technology toward success of the project”.
About Robert Bosch: Headquartered in Germany, Bosch is a privately owned engineering and
industrial technology conglomerate that is recognised as the world’s largest supplier of automotive components. Bosch has 450 subsidiaries and regional companies in over 60 countries with sales and service partners in roughly 150 countries. Bosch announced sales revenue in 2016 of ~€73.1 Billion and spent approximately €7 Billion on research and development over the same period.
Advanced materials company, First Graphene Limited (ASX: FGR) is working with the University of Adelaide (UoA) on graphene for industrial building products.
Graphene in Concrete
Experiments have been conducted on the use of graphene oxide (GO) being added to concrete to improve both compressive and tensile strength. However the hydrophilic and high resistivity nature of GO limits its applications in things such as ‘smart’ cement.
Due to the high aspect ratio of nano-reinforcements such as graphene and carbon nanotubes, they have the ability to arrest crack propagation in concrete (by controlling the nano-sized cracks before they form micro-sized cracks) and hence greatly improve peak toughness, making them more effective than even conventional steel bar or fibre reinforcements.
Premium Concrete Products – Smart Cement
Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) operates at such a high-performance level that it competes with steel rather than regular concrete grades. Advantages include lower lead times compared to steel. UHPC can cost in excess of $500/tonne, with enhancements such as micro-reinforcements further increasing the price.
Due to the immense importance of compression strength and other factors such as blast, ballistic and earthquake resistance, additive premiums can be significant. UHPC is over an order of magnitude more expensive than regular concrete, but in an environment where material usage and weight are such essential considerations, it can actually be cheaper to use the more expensive grades in the long run, especially factoring in the reduced maintenance costs incurred by UHPC.
The UoA is testing FGR graphene, with the aim of making “smart cement” with conductive graphene flakes which may;
i. address the concerns of cracking and corrosion, and
ii. provide conductivity for better monitoring the health of concrete structures.
The first test results indicate the addition of just 0.03% standard graphene by weight is the optimal quantity of graphene from the test conducted to date, showing a 22 - 23 % increase in compressive and tensile strength, respectively. The addition of more standard graphene does not increase or decrease the strength of the concrete material when compared to the control in this test work.
Promising Results with Favourable Economics
This initial work has yielded very promising results with very small amounts of FGR graphene required to greatly increase the strength of the materials. Determining the optimum mixing methods and concentration to develop a consistent material will be the key to further developing this project.
The focus of the next stage of the work will be trialling other concentrations of graphene in concrete, specifically loading at 0.01% and 0.1% graphene, and optimisation of the mixing procedures. New methods of incorporating graphene into the concrete mixture will also be trialled.
The graphene provided by FGR will have a range of aspect ratios (smaller sheet sizes) and will be tested over the full range of concentrations. It is anticipated this material will better disperse within the concrete mixture and therefore provide further mechanical strength improvements.
The concrete admixtures market is estimated to be worth US$18.10bn by 2020. The drivers identified for the concrete admixtures demand are growing infrastructure requirements in developing economies, improving economics of construction, and shifting preferences of population towards urbanisation.
Advanced materials company, First Graphene Limited (FGR), has provided an update on its development of the graphene based FireStop™ fire retardant material.
Development of the FireStop™ material is being conducted in conjunction with the University of Adelaide as part of the Company’s participation as a Tier 1 participant in the ARC Research Hub for Graphene Enabled Industry Transformation.
The video below shows the dramatic effectiveness of FireStop™when applied to simple wooden structures. Whereas the untreated structure on the left is totally consumed by fire, the structure treated with the FireStop™ retardant doesn’t even catch fire even after five minutes of trying to light it with a blow torch.
Given that fires generally start at specific ignition points, the ability of a graphene-based retardant to stop the ignition is a key feature of the product. The FireStop™ was applied in three coats, was applied by brush and was less than 500 μm thickness.
Note: There is no sound for this video.
The relevant characteristic of graphene that this demonstration highlights is the very high thermal conductivity i.e. the ability to disburse heat away from the source. FGR is highly encouraged by the results of this simple demonstration, which augers well for subsequent, more advanced and scientifically controlled demonstrations that are being undertaken.
The University of Adelaide has now received a UL-941 system for use in its workshop. It is also installing an LOI instrument for the generation of scientific data. These instruments will enable an acceleration of the test work being conducted to optimise the FireStop™ product and application methodology.
[ UL 94, the Standard for Safety of Flammability of Plastic Materials for Parts in Devices and Appliances testing, is a plastics flammability standard released by Underwriters Laboratories of the United States. The standard determines the material’s tendency to either extinguish or spread the flame once the specimen has been ignited. UL-94 is now harmonized with IEC 60707, 60695-11-10 and 60695-11-20 and ISO 9772 and 9773. ]
Further tests will be conducted to increase the viscosity of the product while maintaining the fire-retardant performance. This work will be the precursor to submitting FireStop™ to FGR’s own testing to the relevant fire standards and to CSIRO for independent testing in Q1 2018. In the meantime, the Company is entering negotiations with potential industry partners for the commercialisation of FireStop™.
A group of researchers from Denmark, UK and Spain within the Graphene Flagship project, explains in a recent review paper why the graphene industry needs better and faster electrical characterisation methods. The Graphene Flagship is a large European project, with more than hundred research groups collaborating on development of novel graphene technologies and applications.
Just 5 years after the first announcement that graphene could be isolated at all, Rod Ruoff (2009) and Samsung (2010) showed that graphene can be synthesized in a deceptively simple way; by decomposing hydrocarbons at high temperature, leaving single layer graphene sheets to crystallise on a copper surface.
Today, just 7 years later, graphene sheets are produced and used in large quantities – or areas – for instance for cell phone touch screens, according to Chinese researchers.
While large-area fabrication is taking off fast, the methods for quality control are lagging behind – and this is particularly true with respect to the electronic properties that are central to many applications.
Electrical measurements are most often done by turning the graphene film into a number of electrical devices, where field effect measurements give the “key performance indicators” of conductivity, carrier density and mobility. Depending on the number of devices, and the time spent on measuring, such tests can also give an idea about the variability. The two main drawbacks are ; (1) the process is fundamentally destructive – the graphene is irreversible damaged in the process, and (2) the throughput is many orders of magnitude smaller than the CVD-based fabrication of the graphene in the first place creating a bottleneck.
Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark and at the National Physics Laboratory in UK have over the past several years developed a number of fast, large-scale, non-destructive characterisation techniques of electronic properties that they believe have the potential to become game changing technologies.
A recent review focuses on one of these: terahertz time-domain spectroscopy (THz-TDS).
THz-TDS shoots terahertz pulses through the graphene and measures how much the film absorbs. The absorption spectrum up to 2 THz depends distinctly on the conductivity as well as on the scattering time – a measure of the average time the carrier spend between collision with obstacles.
Knowing these two, the carrier density and mobility can be computed. The technique has been meticulously verified against electrical measurements and is now being proposed as a metrology standard, in collaboration with the Spanish company DasNano, who are the first to manufacture terahertz-based conductivity mapping equipment for graphene.
Peter Bøggild, professor at DTU puts it like this: “Trivially, there can be no industry without quality, and there can be no quality without quality control. Non-contact mapping is fast and non-destructive, so anyone interested in consistency, reproducibility and reliability of graphene films, should pay attention.”
Quietly, behind the scenes and under the cover of NDA’s and confidentiality agreements, graphene is making significant commercial advances.
Speaking with graphene producers, the story this year has been consistent; they are selling material but they are unable to publicly disclose the end-users or the application areas due to the commercially sensitive information and the desire for their customers to maintain a first mover advantage.
So how do you promote a material for which there are limited examples and the customers will not agree to be named or to allow the products to be disclosed?
Based on conversations with producers, we know enough to be able to say with confidence that the majority of the material being sold is “bulk” graphene; this refers to graphene nano particles (GNPs), graphene oxide (GO) and reduced graphene oxide (rGO), graphene powders, graphene in suspension and graphene sold in master batches.
We know that the lion’s share of the market is for nanocomposite materials based on surveys of more than 400 graphene application developers, producers and end-users. In fact it is more than 50% of the total current market.
These applications include the use of graphene in plastics, polymers, 3D printing, rubber, with carbon fibers and CNTs, as well as in concrete and steel applications.
We also know that virtually every major bona fide graphene producer has announced or has indicated a significant production capacity increase for 2017, 2018 or 2019 at the latest, based on the market pull through for the material.
And this progress is not limited just to bulk graphene but also to single layer CVD graphene as well with the recent ability to produce wafer sized products at a dramatically reduced price compared to just 1 year prior.
How do we take the next steps towards greater commercialization?
The Graphene Council is working with vertical industries, like the composites sector, to help educate and inform those companies that would be the largest buyers and users of this material about how graphene enhances or enables better solutions (strength, flexibility, conductivity, wear resistance, thermal properties, etc.).
We see our mission as being a catalyst to help raise the level of awareness in the end-user community about the possibilities that graphene offers and to dispel some of the myths that have been created from the over-hyped expectations of the past few years.
In a recent review of more than 60 graphene products, more than 45 different material characteristics were listed by at least one of the materials studied. Yet not one single characteristic (not the carbon content, not the carbon layer count, etc.) was common across every product. In fact, there was not a single material characteristic as listed on the specifications sheets that was shared by more than 75% of the products listed.
It is impossible for a buyer of graphene to be able to compare products based on the spec sheets alone and it is prohibitively expensive to expect the consumer to test each supplier’s material to just know what they are getting.
As a result, we see a tremendous need to help buyers identify trusted suppliers of quality materials.
As we enter 2018, The Graphene Council will focus on accelerating the commercial adoption of graphene and representing the interests of our members by;
a.) educating targeted industries like composites, coatings, energy storage, etc.,
inov-8 is launching a revolutionary world-first in the sports footwear market following a unique collaboration with scientific experts. The British brand has teamed up with The University of Manchester to become the first-ever company to incorporate graphene into running and fitness shoes.
Laboratory tests have shown that the rubber outsoles of these shoes, new to market in 2018, are stronger, more stretchy and more resistant to wear.
Michael Price, inov-8 product and marketing director, said: “Off-road runners and fitness athletes live at the sporting extreme and need the stickiest outsole grip possible to optimize their performance, be that when running on wet trails or working out in sweaty gyms. For too long, they have had to compromise this need for grip with the knowledge that such rubber wears down quickly."
“Now, utilising the groundbreaking properties of graphene, there is no compromise. The new rubber we have developed with the National Graphene Institute at The University of Manchester allows us to smash the limits of grip."
“Our lightweight G-Series shoes deliver a combination of traction, stretch and durability never seen before in sports footwear. 2018 will be the year of the world’s toughest grip.”
Commenting on the collaboration and the patent-pending technology, inov-8 CEO Ian Bailey said: “Product innovation is the number-one priority for our brand. It’s the only way we can compete against the major sports brands. The pioneering collaboration between inov-8 and the The University of Manchester puts us – and Britain – at the forefront of a graphene sports footwear revolution."
“And this is just the start, as the potential of graphene really is limitless. We are so excited to see where this journey will take us.”
The scientists who first isolated graphene were awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010. Building on their revolutionary work, the team at The University of Manchester has pioneered projects into graphene-enhanced sports cars, medical devices and aeroplanes. Now the University can add sports footwear to its list of world-firsts.
Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, Reader in Nanomaterials at the University of Manchester, said: “Despite being the thinnest material in the world, graphene is also the strongest, and is 200 times stronger than steel. It’s also extraordinarily flexible, and can be bent, twisted, folded and stretched without incurring any damage.
“When added to the rubber used in inov-8’s G-Series shoes, graphene imparts all its properties, including its strength. Our unique formulation makes these outsoles 50% stronger, 50% more stretchy and 50% more resistant to wear than the corresponding industry standard rubber without graphene.”
“The graphene-enhanced rubber can flex and grip to all surfaces more effectively, without wearing down quickly, providing reliably strong, long-lasting grip."
“This is a revolutionary consumer product that will have a huge impact on the sports footwear market.”
Certainly as one of the leading research institutes in the world for the development of automotive technology, Fraunhofer has a global reputation for delivering the latest cutting edge breakthroughs in any technology associated with the automotive industry from energy storage to lightweight engineering.
Based on Fraunhofer’s titanic reputation in R&D, it was a stroke of luck that The Graphene Council was able to meet up with Fraunhofer’s Head of Functional Materials, Ivica Kolaric, at the Economist’s “The Future of Materials Summit” held in Luxembourg in mid-November.
In his role as leader of the functional material group at Fraunhofer, Kolaric has been conducting research on nanoscale carbon materials, like graphene, for almost 20 years. The aim of all this work has consistently been to produce functionalized nanoscale carbon materials to bring them to industrial applications.
Kolaric and his team have been working specifically on graphene since 2008 and have been synthesizing graphene using both chemical vapor deposition (CVD) as well as exfoliation techniques. With these various grades of graphene, the Fraunhofer researchers have experimented with a variety of applications.
“We first started with applications in the field of energy storage and transparent conductive films,” said Kolaric in an interview at the Luxembourg conference. “As you may remember there was a big discussion a few years back going on if graphene could serve as a replacement for idium tin oxide (ITO). But we determined that this is maybe not the right application for graphene because when you use it large areas for conductive films it’s competing with commodity products.”
Kolaric also explained that Fraunhofer had collaborated with battery manufacturer Maxell in the development of different types of energy storage devices, specifically supercapacitors. They had some success in increasing the energy density of these devices, which is an energy storage device’s ability to store a charge. With the graphene, the increased surface area of graphene did give a boost to storage capabilities but it just couldn’t deliver enough of an increase in performance over its costs, according to Kolaric.
Now Kolaric says that Fraunhofer is looking at graphene in sensor applications, in particular biosensors. “Graphene is really a perfect substrate for doping, so you can make it sensitive for any kind of biological effects,” said Kolaric. “This could make it a very good biosensor.”
But Kolaric cautions that avenues for purification have to be developed. If this and other issues can be addressed with graphene, there is the promise of a sensor technology that could be very effective at detecting gases, which currently is tricky for automotive sensors that are restricted to detecting pressure and temperature. “I think graphene can play an important role in this,” added Kolaric.
In addition to next generation sensors, Kolaric believes that graphene’s efficiency as a conductor could lead to it being what he terms an “interlink” on the submicron level. Kolaric believes that this will lead to its use in power electronics.
Kolaric added: “I would say sensors and serving as an interlink, so these are the two occasions where we think graphene can be effective.”
Advanced materials company, First Graphene Limited (ASX: FGR ), officially opened its Commercial Graphene Facility (CGF) at a ceremony with Mr Josh Wilson MP, Federal Member for Fremantle, Australia on Thursday 23, November 2017.
FGR Chairman, Warwick Grigor stated “This Facility represents both the completion of one journey and the commencement of another.” The first part of the journey had commenced in May 2015 when testing of FGR’s material was undertaken at the University of Adelaide. “The tests were done, and they confirmed that not only could graphene be recovered, but of the 50 or more types of graphite that Professor Dusan Losic and his team had tested, the vein graphite (from FGR) gave the best results. ”
First Graphene Board Members L to R; Chris Banasik, Peter Youd, Warwick Grigor and Craig McGuckin
Mr Grigor added, “ There are two very impressive aspects of this wonderfully innovative venture. The first is the very short time frame in which it has been achieved. The second is the very small expenditure that has been involved. Both are a credit to the resourcefulness of the FGR team, led by ourManaging Director, Craig Mc Guckin.Through careful management and sourcing ofequipment for this production facility, management has been able to achieve excellent costs reductions. In many cases these savings have been up to 80%. Rather than accept off-the-shelf quotes from German suppliers, Craig has engaged with manufacturers in China to design and procure equipment at significant savings. That is what good management does for a company.”
MrJoshWilson MP,Federal Member for Fremantle speakingat theofficial opening.
Officiallyopening the facility Mr Wilson remarked“It really is no exaggeration to say that graphene will likely be one of the defining substances and technologies of the 21st century.It is wonderful that the enormous potential of graphene will be explored and enabled through a production facility here in Henderson; in the Fremantle electorate; in the state of Western Australia.It’s exactly the kind of smart, innovative, cutting- edge business that we should be in; that we need to be in.”
Mr Wilson went on to state “I expect that the development of processes and applications that involve graphene– like the development of renewable energy technology; like innovations in medical science– will have a particularly profoundbeneficialimpactincountriesthatfacedevelopment challenges, including a number of countries in our region.Making a contribution to lifting the standard of living and the quality of life the world over through invention and innovation is a great Australian tradition."
Last week, the city of Luxembourg played host to The Economist’s “The Future of Materials Summit”. The agenda was heavily influenced by the Russian-based single-wall carbon nanotube (SWNTs) producer, OCSiAl, which not only sponsored the event but also plans to open a SWNT production facility in Luxembourg.
With the Luxembourg prime minister, Xavier Bettel, providing a keynote in which he expressed his hope that Luxembourg could bring back its manufacturing glory days when it was one of Europe’s largest steel producers, the hope seemed to be squarely placed on the potential of SWNTs to be the engine for Luxembourg’s economic transformation back to manufacturing.
In what may have been the most interesting set of ironies of the conference, one of the world’s largest steel producers today—Tata Steel—provided testimony that the future of steel manufacturing is not turning towards the expensive and finicky SWNTs, but instead is developing a cheaply produced form of graphene that promises to drastically improve corrosion resistance in steel.
Sanjay Chandra, Chief of Research and Development and Scientific Services at Tata Steel, provided one of the only examples at the conference on how novel materials move from discovery to high volume production. And in this case, the discovery process was quite unexpected.
“We were looking at coatings that would improve the corrosion resistance of steel,” said Chandra in an interview immediately after his presentation. “There is already zinc, of course, but there are a lot of environmental issues with the zinc as well as the costs associated with it. So we came across this bio product from a tree. It is the secretion that an insect makes as it sits on the seeds of the tree. You could call it a bio extract, and we were able to convert this material into graphene.”
The graphene takes the form of graphene oxide in which the carbon-to-oxygen ratio is about 30% to 40%, and, according to Chandra, it provides very good corrosion resistance.
“Its conductivity is good enough for some of the sensors that are used in the pharmaceutical industry and the main feature of our product is that can we can produce it at a very low cost because it can be produced in very large volumes and very rapidly,” said Chandra.
Currently, the process that Chandra and his colleagues at Tata Steel are employing with the graphene oxide is a manual process of dipping the steel in a liquid created by this powder. While this is good enough for testing, Chandra concedes that in order to replace zinc in steel production they will need to develop a more refined process.
“We need a process that can fit into a steel plant that is producing these galvanized sheets of steel at very high speeds and all in one sequence,” he added. “So for us to be able to do that that's a bit of a challenge.”
Part of the challenge is that it is very difficult to get someone to retrofit a steel assembly line because of production disruptions. However, with the graphene material offering at least a doubling of corrosion resistance over zinc and offering biocompatibility there is certainly reason to look into overcoming these production obstacles.
Most of the research and development that has been done so far with the material and processes has been performed in house at Tata Steel. Chandra explained that this was not because of any reticence to work with outside research groups—which Tata Steel does quite regularly—but instead they have not been able to identify the appropriate group that could help them scale up the production for steel applications. Another problem is just the culture of the steel industry, which has proven to be not very good at engineering and design, which is where the current problems resides.
To address these issues Tata Steel has taken the forward thinking measure of funding a new research group at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras to look at among other things this material and how to potentially scale up production. Tata steel has also enlisted the research support of The Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE) in Bangalore, India to investigate the potential sensor applications of the graphene material.
For Chandra the project has been ongoing for the last two-and-a-half years, and he says the development that has been made thus far has been very fast. “We’ve gone from a research curiosity and then to a research project in R&D to where we are now with a small production unit on the R&D level,” he added.
In addition, Chandra believes that the work at CeNSE could start producing tangible dividends from their research in as soon as a year from now. The material could enable glass to turn from clear to opaque with just the passing of current through it with the graphene providing the conductivity in the glass.
In the meantime, Chandra is looking for other collaborators, especially any organizations that can offer expertise and insight on how to scale up a steel production process that employs a graphene oxide for corrosion resistance.
Posted By Terrance Barkan,
Sunday, November 5, 2017
Updated: Sunday, November 5, 2017
Graphene, the world's first two-dimensional material, is many times stronger than steel, more conductive than copper, lightweight, flexible and one million times thinner than a human hair.
Graphene is set to improve the quality of life for many across the globe. Potential applications include inexpensive water purification systems; greener, more efficient cars and planes; flexible phones and even biomedical applications such as wound healing and cancer treatments.
Graphene’s commercial adoption will be accelerated by answering two key questions: what are the characteristics of commercially-supplied graphene? And how can they be used to best effect?
The establishment of common industrial metrics, regarding for example the number of layers or flake size, is crucial for the uptake of graphene-based technologies.
The National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester has partnered with NPL to produce a guide, as part of NPL's good practice guide series, that aims to tackle the ambiguity surrounding how to measure graphene’s characteristics.
Material standardisation is crucial for industry uptake. There are many early adopters of graphene but without standardisation it is difficult for industry to be assured of the quality and properties of its graphene samples.
This guide seeks to address this gap and brings together the accepted measurement techniques in this area. It describes the high-accuracy and precision required for verification of material properties and will enable the development of other faster quality control techniques in the future.
Intended to form a bedrock for future interlaboratory comparisons and international standards, the guide will accelerate the development of graphene-enabled technology and improve the ability to produce graphene in a reliable and repeatable way.
Dr Andrew Pollard, lead author of the guide and Senior Research Scientist at NPL, commented:
"Although there are many ways to measure the properties of different types of commercially-available ‘graphene’, industry needs a standardised set of measurements. This will enable companies to select the type of material best suited to their needs by reliably comparing key characteristics, supporting the development of innovative new technologies based on graphene. This guide is the first step in this process, and as the basis of international measurement standards currently being developed, will provide measurement protocols that can be used in the interim."
James Baker, Graphene Business Director at the University of Manchester, said:
"This good practice guide has been developed by the NGI and NPL teams to allow the nascent graphene industry to perform accurate, reproducible and comparable measurements of commercially supplied graphene. This will address this important commercialisation barrier by providing users with a consistent approach to the structural characterisation of graphene whilst international measurement standards are being developed".
Nanotechnologies — Vocabulary — Part 13: Graphene and related two-dimensional (2D) materials
ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies. The work of preparing International Standards is normally carried out through ISO technical committees. ISO collaborates closely with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on all matters of electrotechnical standardization.
The Graphene Council is proud to be a formal member of both, the ISO/ANSI TC 229 Nanotechnology Standards Development Group as well as the USNC Technical Advisory Group to IEC TC 113, Nano-Electrotechnologies.
Our focus is on the development of standards that will benefit suppliers, buyers and users. We firmly believe that clear standards will foster greater adoption of graphene and graphene related products.
Now, in a series of in-person interviews with several researchers at ICFO (the first of which you can find here), we are gaining better insight into how these technologies came to be and where they ultimately may lead.
The combination of graphene with quantum dots for use in optoelectronics stems in large part from the contributions of Gerasimos Konstantatos, a group leader at ICFO, who worked with Ted Sargent at the University of Toronto, whose research group has been at the forefront of exploiting colloidal quantum dots for use in a range of applications, most notably high-efficiency photovoltaics.
“Our initial expertise and focus was on actually exploiting the properties of solution-process materials particularly colloidal quantum dots as optoelectronic materials for solar cells and photodetectors,” explained Konstantatos. “The uniqueness of these materials is that they give us access to a spectrum that is very rarely reached in the shortwave and infrared and they can do it at a much lower cost than any other technology.”
Konstantatos and his group were able to bring their work with quantum dots to the point of the near-infrared wavelength spectrum, which falls in the wavelength size range of one to five microns. Konstantos is now developing these solution-based quantum dot materials to produce even more sensitive materials capable of getting to 10 microns, putting them squarely in the mid-infrared range.
“My group is now working with Frank Koppens to sensitize graphene and other 2D materials in order to make very sensitive photodetectors at a very low cost that are capable of accessing the entire spectrum, and this cannot be done with any other technology,” said Konstantatos.
What Konstantatos and Koppens have been able to do is to basically eliminate the junction between graphene and the quantum dots and in so doing have developed a way to control the charge transfer in a very efficient way so that they can exploit the very high mobility and transport conductance of graphene.
“We can re-circulate the charges through the materials so that with a single photon we have several billion charges re-circulating through the material and this constitutes the baseline of this material combination,” adds Konstantatos.
With that as their baseline technology, Konstantatos and his colleagues have engineered the quantum dot layer so instead of just having a passive quantum dot layer they have converted it into an electro-diode. In this way they can make much more complex detectors. In the combination of the graphene-based transistor with the quantum dots, it’s not just a collection of quantum dots but is a photodiode made from quantum dots.
“In this way, we kind of get the benefit of both kinds of detectors,” explains Konstantatos. “You have a phototransistor that has a very high sensitivity and a very high gain, but you also get the high quantum efficiency you get in photodiodes. It’s basically a quantum photodiode that activates a transistor.”
In addition to the use of graphene, the ICFO researchers are looking at other 2D materials in this combination, specifically the semiconductor molybdenum disulfide. While this material is a semiconductor and sacrifices somewhat on the electron mobility of graphene, it does make it possible to switch off the material to control the current. As a result, Konstantatos notes that you can have much lower noise in the detector with much lower power consumption.
In continuing research, Konstantatos hinted at yet to be published work on how all of this combination of quantum dots and graphene could be used in solar cell applications.
In the meantime, the work they have been doing with graphene and quantum dots is much further advanced than what they have yet been able to achieve with molybdenum disulfide, mainly because work has advanced much further in making large scale amounts of graphene. But as the processes for producing other 2D materials improves, there will be a real competition between all of the 2D materials to see which provides the best possible performance as well as manufacturability properties.
In any event, Konstantatos sees that the way forward with both quantum dots and 2D materials is using them together.
He adds: “I think we can explore the synergies in between different material platforms. There's no such thing as a perfect material that can do everything right. But there is definitely a group of materials with some unique properties. And if you can actually combine them in a smart way and make hybrid structures, then I think you can have significant added value.”
Versarien plc, an advanced materials engineering group, has announced that it has entered into a collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries ("IAI") to enable both groups to work together to develop and test Versarien's proprietary Nanene few layer graphene nano-platelets in aerospace composite structures.
IAI is a world leader in both the defence and commercial markets, delivering state-of-the-art technologies and systems in the domains of: air, space, land, sea, cyber, homeland security and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
IAI has agreed to purchase Nanene from Versarien, in a variety of forms, which will then be incorporated into composite panels for testing and evaluation, with a view to developing commercial applications for the technology. The collaboration is additionally expected to incorporate discussions and work with IAI's supply chain.
Moshe Medina, EVP and General Manager of IAI's Engineering and Development Group, commented: "IAI looks forward to collaborating with Versarien on graphene based composites, which we believe will help us create stronger and multi-functional materials. It is an ongoing challenge to harnesses the excellent micro- properties of graphene for enhancement of our composites."
Neill Ricketts, CEO of Versarien, commented: "We are delighted to be working with IAI, a global leader in aerospace technologies, to incorporate our graphene into a variety of composite structures. We will be working closely with the teams at IAI and their suppliers to test and evaluate the benefits of adding graphene to a variety of composite structures.
"The agreement with IAI is a significant step forward for Versarien, our first graphene collaboration in the aerospace sector, but it is just one example of the global relationships we are developing. There is increasing interest in the benefits that high quality graphene, of the types manufactured by Versarien, can add to material properties and we look forward to announcing further collaborations in due course."
Posted By Terrance Barkan,
Monday, October 30, 2017
Updated: Monday, October 30, 2017
Haydale Technologies and Imagine Intelligent Materials have signed a strategic agreement to establish graphene-based conductive coatings capability in North America.
The agreement includes:
Haydale to acquire exclusive license to Imagine IM’s “Plant In A Box” graphene processing technology
Establishes US supply chain for revolutionary graphene-based conductive coatings that are purpose-designed for global US$22bn geosynthetics marketplace
Coatings product proven in Australian market and being installed as part of Coal Seam Gas containment systems to enable hole detection pre-final commissioning
Haydale will import inventory of imgne® X3 to support planned field trials and early adopter orders
The signing of a Letter of Intent (LOI) between Haydale and Imagine IM marks the first step in establishing a strategic collaboration between two companies that are leading globally the development of commercial applications using graphene.
In parallel with this, Haydale has issued a Purchase Order to Imagine IM for a quantity of Imgne X3 that will be sufficient to enable 50,000m2 of conductive geotextile to be manufactured. This will ensure that there is available supply in the US ahead of the commissioning of a full-scale plant at Haydale’s manufacturing facility in Greer, SC.
The first full-scale Imagine IM graphene research plant was officially opened in August 2017 by Australia’s Assistant Minister for Industry, Craig Laundy. This followed the establishment of a pilot plant in 2016. The Assistant Minister, opening the plant, said: “Imagine IM have demonstrated a capacity to both develop and manufacture highly effective end products which have revolutionary implications for manufacturing industries in Australia. They’ve done that by embracing new technologies, linking with global value chains, and developing high value-added products.”
The agreement between Haydale and Imagine IM Is intended to enable more industrial end-users to accelerate the take up of graphene-based composites and coatings into global advanced manufacturing supply chains. It will also mean that production of materials that make geosynthetic materials “smart” will be fast tracked in the US.
Chris Gilbey, CEO of Imagine IM said, “Combining Imagine IM’s proven graphene manufacturing processes with Haydale’s advanced materials manufacturing expertise will be a significant step toward delivering disruptive graphene-based coatings solutions into the North American market. It comes on the back of successful product installations in Australia and a full order book for product to our licensee Geofabrics Australasia, the leading textile manufacturer in Australia.
Ray Gibbs, CEO of Haydale Graphene Industries PLC, said “This is a very important strategic step in Haydale’s global growth plan. This partnership builds on our existing nano dispersion know how and patented material doping technology and now extends our graphene footprint in the US. It also gives Haydale direct access to the world’s largest market for coated geosynthetics. This is just the what we see as a major opportunity for further collaboration with Imagine IM on a wide range of graphene enhanced applications.”
Trevor Rudderham, President and CEO of Haydale Technologies Inc, said, “We are very pleased to sign this strategic agreement with Imagine IM. They are an impressive company with world leading product and process technology in the graphene arena. This will be Haydale Technologies first graphene related manufacturing initiative in the US and is an exciting development for us. Our team in Greer, SC has the process engineering, application expertise and sales capability in advanced materials to ensure this will be a very successful endeavour for both Haydale and Imagine IM.”
Note: Haydale Graphene Industries and Imagine IM are Corporate Members of The Graphene Council.
The use of graphene in the growing field known as plasmonics—in which the waves of electrons known as surface plasmons that are generated when photons strike a metallic structure—has been transforming the world of photonics and optoelectronics, enabling the possibility of much smaller devices operated by photons rather than electrons.
It’s worth providing a bit of background on the field of plasmonics before jumping to this latest research. The use of photons instead of electrons for something like an integrated circuit has the clear benefit that photons travel much faster than electrons, promising much faster devices. However, the use of light in these applications is limited by the relatively large size of wavelengths of light. Light is fast, but their wavelengths are much larger than nanometer-scale dimensions of most integrated circuits.
Plasmonics provides a way to convert that light—photons—into waves of electrons that can be tuned to have much smaller dimensions than those of light. The dimensions of these plasmon waves can be a hundred times smaller than the smallest wavelengths of light. This means that light can serve as the basis of photonic integrated circuits, but many more devices than that.
The field of plasmonics has really taken in off in the last half-decade, and ICFO has been at the forefront of a lot of that work, especially in using graphene to enable the effect. However, what Garcia de Abajo has proposed is a new theoretical approach to generate visible plasmons in graphene not from light but from tunneling electrons.
In research published in the journal ACS Photonics, Garcia de Abajo and his colleague Sandra de Vega have suggested that there are more efficient ways of generating surface plasmons on graphene than using an external light source and have instead shown through models that graphene plasmons can be efficiently excited via electron tunneling in a sandwich structure formed by two graphene monolayers separated by a few atomic layers of hexagonal boron nitride.
As mentioned, it’s possible to tune the size of the plasmon waves, especially graphene plasmons, which can be changed in size according to the amount of doping level (an addition of other materials). While high doping levels can push the wavelength of the graphene plasmons towards the visible range, these grpahene plasmons primarily reside in the mid-infrared region, which translates into a weak coupling between far-field light and graphene.
What de Vega and García de Abajo have proposed is a methodology for visible-plasmon generation in graphene that requires no light at all. Instead, plasmons are generated from tunneling electrons, which are electrons that are able to pass through a material on the quantum level that they could not otherwise pass through.
To achieve this photon-less plasmonics, the researchers propose a graphene–hexagonal boron nitride (hBN)–graphene sandwich structure. In their model, the hBN layer is 1-nm thick that is sandwiched between two graphene monolayers.
When the right amount of voltage (bias) is applied between the two graphene sheets, it produces tunneling electrons through the gap. The researchers discovered a particular voltage window in which the tunneling electrons lose energy through the excitation of a propagating optical plasmon rather than dissipate through coupling with the vibrations of the crystal lattice of hBN that carry heat, which are known as phonons, (low bias) or electron–electron interactions (high bias).
One of the side benefits of plasmonic devices that operate in this way—without the need for photons—can also be used in reverse as sensors. In this way when a change occurs in the graphene plasmon properties, that change could lead to a voltage readout.
An international team of researchers led by Professor Steven Conlan, Swansea University Medical School and the Centre for NanoHealth has won an international award for a graphene biosensor based diagnostic test for ovarian cancer which is quicker, more accurate, less expensive and portable.
The team developed a testing device which can diagnose ovarian cancer in a few minutes using a drop of blood. This portable technology is different from the ones currently in the hospital environment and allows for greater flexibility in terms of monitoring a patient even after she has already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
As well as the test being simple and fast the test does not require a technically-developed laboratory or a specialized technician to operate it which reduces costs and means that there isn’t a need for a centralisation of services. The device can also be used with other biomarkers to detect other types of disease.
Ovarian cancer research award Professor Conlan, together with colleagues Dr Sofia Teixeira (Swansea University College of Engineering), Drs Lewis Francis, Deya Gonzalez and Lavinia Margarit (from the Swansea University Medical School), and Dr Ines Pinto from the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, INL, Braga, Portugal have been recognised for their pioneering work with the award of the i3S Hovine Capital Health Innovation prize.
Professor Conlan said: “The Hovione prize will allow the team to initiate the process of moving our device from the lab to the patient. Whilst there is much work to be done, this is an important step towards the better and earlier diagnosis of patients with ovarian cancer. Cooperation between the two European centres has been key in realising this achievement.”
i3S Hovine Capital Health Innovation prize, created this year, aims at distinguishing innovative ideas in the area of health. The winners of the grand prize receive €35,000 in financing and services that include a market study, development of a business plan, technology validation by industrial experts, and support in setting up a company based on the winning technology.
The i3S-Hovione Capital Health Innovation Prize is supported internationally by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT-Health) and has partnerships with several entities, such as Bluecinical (PT), Patentree (PT), SRS Advogados (PT), Impact Science (UK), and ANI / MCTES (PT) through its Bfk Award.
The Graphene Flagship is the EU's largest ever research initiative with more than 150 partners in over 20 European countries.
Since early 2017, 15 new partners have been accepted and the number of Associated Members and Partnering Projects continues to grow, adding value to the joint graphene and related materials research effort.
According to European Commission's interim review report of the project's first year following the two-and-half-year ramp-up phase, the Graphene Flagship has achieved most of its objectives and milestones and has delivered exceptional results with significant immediate or potential impact.
The Graphene Flagship consortia has produced over 600 scientific publications, 37 patent applications, 17 products on the market and six spin-off companies during this 12-month period.
The Graphene Flagship is further commended for focusing its work towards a more industrially oriented initiative with a higher Technology Readiness Level.
"We are glad to have received such a positive evaluation feedback from the European Commission as it is an important acknowledgement that we are progressing in the right direction towards our overall goal, which is taking graphene and related materials from academic laboratories to the factory floor," says Jari Kinaret, Director of the Graphene Flagship.
Significant results close to commercial exploitation mentioned in the report include the Airbus winglet made of graphene composites, a motorcycle helmet with a graphene coating, a new viscoelastic graphene-polymer sensor material, perovskite photovoltaic cells with improved stability and a demonstration of tuneable ion sieving using GO membrane for water desalination.
Graphene enhanced helmet by Italian Graphene Flagship partner IIT and MomoDesign on display at Composites Europe in Düsseldorf - Courtesy of Graphene Flagship
These achievements are all the more impressive when considering how long it has traditionally taken a new material to break through to commercial application.
As stated in this recent blog, Thomas Skordas, the EU Director "Digital Excellence and Science Infrastructure" at the Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) said;
"Firstly, it takes time to do research and generate good results. Usually up to 20 years is needed for a new material to find its way to market. Thanks to its long lasting collaboration between academia and industry, Graphene Flagship proves that this process can be substantially accelerated, contributing to shortening drastically the cycle from research to innovation. The results start showing that this is a valuable research and innovation model."
We couldn't agree more.
The mission of The Graphene Council is to support the commercial adoption of graphene, world-wide.
We congratulate the Graphene Flagship and its many partners on the progress they are making and wherever possible, we will continue to support and compliment those efforts.
Advanced materials company, First Graphite Limited (ASX: FGR) has announced the appointment of Dr Andy Goodwin as a consultant to the Company.
For the last five years Dr Goodwin has been Business Director, Advanced Materials Division, at Thomas Swan & Co Limited in Consett UK. Thomas Swan and Co, a private company, is one of the leading graphene companies based in the UK.
Dr Goodwin has been primarily responsible for development and commercialisation of graphene products. Not only will Dr Goodwin be of great assistance to First Graphite as it prepares to take its products to the market, but his location in the UK will give the Company a valuable presence and capability in the important, expanding market for graphene in Europe.
Prior to joining Thomas Swan Dr Goodwin was the Global Science & Technology Manager – Solar, for Dow Corning Corporation, in the USA. Dr Goodwin has a Ph.D. in Polymer Chemistry and an MTE Diploma from the International Institute for Management Development Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Dr Goodwin will take up his position with the Company in early October 2017.
Commenting on this appointment, FGR’s Managing Director Craig McGuckin said
“We are very pleased to have Andy joining our team. I believe his decision to join FGR validates the approach we have taken to progressing our advanced materials projects and IP. Andy has proven leadership capabilities with global teams and a successful track record of delivering results in both corporate and small business environments. His being based in the UK will be particularly helpful in assisting with working with our European and UK based clients.
The board welcomes Andy to our growing team and looks forward to a long and mutually rewarding relationship”
Dr. Andy Goodwin likewise commented on his new role:
“I'm pleased to be joining the FGR team and helping to grow the business - FGR has a great position in high quality graphite RMs, a low cost graphene production process and an appetite for downstream opportunities. There's plenty to be excited about.”
With buyers uncertain of how to integrate graphene into their products and suppliers often in a race against time to bring a product to market, can the gap be bridged?
The myriad industries that potentially can be impacted by graphene seems at times a bewildering blizzard of possibilities with no clear path on how to access any of them. If graphene does work for applications ranging from photovoltaics to advanced composites, how does it do it and how can those underlying industries extract the benefits from it for their products?
While the major chemical companies struggle with the learning curve of how they can best use graphene to enable their products effectively, graphene suppliers are struggling with the time it takes to walk those buyers through that learning curve.
“The biggest challenge is accelerating the testing of products with large companies to convince the rest of industry to make the change to incorporate a new material,” said Mark Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of Australia-based Tagla Resources, in a Q&A interview with The Graphene Council last month. Thompson added that in addition to the challenge of time, companies like his face the perennial problem of lack of investor and business knowledge of how graphene really works in an application.
Graphene suppliers face this lack of knowledge among their buyers almost universally. While some suppliers are better equipped to last out the long vetting process, the results are not just taxing to the financial stamina of small companies, but are impacting the overall business of graphene.
“We have encountered customers who are either using low-quality graphene, or graphene oxide in some cases, where they are not maximizing the potential of their products,” said Mr. Ho, Chairman of Perfect Right Limited, an Asia-based graphene producer and a subsidiary of Oovao Powers Holdings Limited, in a Q&A with The Graphene Council last June. “Until commercial applications of graphene-enhanced products become widespread and the application of graphene in products is better understood, we will continue to see a fragmented industry where end users are not able to maximize the potential of graphene in their products.”
While much work is done to improve manufacturing processes of graphene—both in terms of the quantity and quality of the product to improve industry uptake—these efforts both may be missing the larger point, which is to make a masterbatch material.
“I believe that in any industry you always start with the customer need. Quality is less important than functionality and price,” said Chris Gilbey, CEO of Australia-based Imagine IM, in a Q&A with The Graphene Council last March. “What we focus on is developing fit-for-purpose graphene at the lowest possible price, and at a location that meets the supply chain objectives of customers.”
While this, of course, makes logical sense for any supplier, are the real-world experiences of graphene producers lining up their product with buyers’ expectations? UK-based Haydale Graphene Industries Plc has had an exclusive agreement with Huntsman Corporation to develop a graphene infused Araldite® epoxy resin, and according to Haydale’s CEO, Ray Gibbs, in an interview with The Graphene Council last month, it has been a journey.
“There are no sales yet but it’s been good for us though because we've learnt an awful lot of know-how about how to mix, choosing appropriate dispersions methods, what cure protocol to adopt and how the surface activations of materials affect our materials,” said Gibbs in the interview. “One fundamental thing that it proved to us is that Huntsman did not want any change to the resin once we added in nanomaterials. Generally, adding nanomaterials at low levels will alter the viscosity and downstream processing methods. The minute you do that is when capital expenditure happens and that alerts the finance teams to cash outflows (often not in any budget). The key then is to avoid processing changes and the need for capital spend. The work has produced some fundamental know how on mixing, dispersion and processing.”
All the suppliers spoken to acknowledge that this learning curve needs to be shortened. Certification is cited by most as a way to shortcut through the quality assurance concerns for buyers. It would help the buyers to de-risk their business plans with graphene.
“We spend a lot of time going around the world doing a lot of presentations just trying to grow belief by providing verified data, which is crucial in getting the customer to say, “OK, it's not just been verified by the suppliers it’s been verified by an independent third party.” For me, that’s another area of credibility that needs to be driven by the industry,” said Gibbs.
Certification can be costly and the bodies that have established those certifications remain often in the planning stages. What remains is an educational process. And the responsibility of that education is increasingly being taken up by not just the graphene suppliers, but by industry groups, such as The Graphene Council.
Gibbs added: “I think the Graphene Council has got a role to play where it's important to inform and to get industry to think about the benefit derived from a consistent, quality supply of material.”
UK-BASED G2O Water Technologies is to scale up production and field-test its patented graphene oxide water filters in a new £1m (US$1.3m) project.
The funding for the project has largely come from UK government research funding arm Innovate UK, with the remainder provided by G2O's project partners, including speciality chemical manufacturer William Blythe.
G2O Water Technologies’ filters can be printed using a low-cost method, or made by applying a graphene oxide coating to polymer membranes. The graphene oxide coating makes the membrane more permeable, allowing more water to pass through and meaning up to 50% less energy is needed to drive the process. The company believes that it could one day result in being able to do away with the need for pumps for membrane purification systems and rely instead on gravity.
“As we are taking a porous polymer material as the substrate, and the filtration by size exclusion is happening in the surface layers of graphene oxide, it is expected to be significantly cheaper than some current membranes due to its simplicity. However, when this is packaged into a domestic system, eliminating the need for pumps, ozone, UV etc, it means that the purification system can be significantly cheaper too, potentially extending access to clean water to more people,” said Tim Harper, G2O CEO and founder.
The company hopes to develop and market cheap domestic water purification units for use inside the home, in areas of the world where the water supply is not reliably clean, with contaminants including pesticides, heavy metals and plastic microfibres. Products could range from a simple jug to more sophisticated appliances. Harper says the company’s system “makes obtaining clean water as simple as making a cup of filter coffee.”
The new £1m funding will allow G2O Water Technologies to develop large-scale manufacturing processes for the filters using industrial printing technology. It will work with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and its industry partners. G2O will then embark upon field testing with a major global consumer products company with a significant market share in Asia and Africa, although the company did not reveal which. The project will last for 26 months, and G2O believes that a final commercial product using its filters could ready in three years.
The funding follows a previous £700m Innovate UK grant in 2015. Over the past two years, G2O has worked with the CPI to help transfer and scale up the technology from laboratory to industry.
“G2O’s graphene filter technology has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of treating water, thereby increasing the availability of safe drinking water. This project provides us with the ability to validate and accelerate an innovative, emerging technology that can help us develop the next generation of cost-effective systems for clean, potable water. This is key to meeting diverse, consumer demand across the globe,” said Harper.
When people start looking into the commercialization of graphene and graphene-enabled products, one of the first companies they likely come across is the UK-based Haydale Graphene Industries PLC.
This is due—at least in part—to the fact that Haydale has been around for a relatively long time in the graphene business and was one of the first publically traded graphene suppliers, not to mention it being one of the leading companies in the production of graphene from facilities in the UK, USA and the Far East.
Over the years, Haydale has established itself as one of the go-to companies if you wanted graphene to have just the right properties for the device you wanted to develop. The task of functionalizing and dispersing graphene so that it bonds with the resin or polymer matrix in which it is being used has proven trickier than many companies had initially thought, leaving the uninitiated mixing in batches of graphene to their product only to have it make the product worse rather than better. By providing the expertise on how to extract the attractive properties from graphene, Haydale has created the backbone of its business.
In recent years, Haydale has continued to move up the value chain offering its own devices based on its functionalized graphene.
Now Haydale has become one of The Graphene Council’s Corporate Members, and we took that opportunity to talk to the company’s CEO, Ray Gibbs, to ask about the company’s most recent commercial developments as well as see how he sees the market evolving over time. Here is our interview:
Q: Your purchase of Advanced Composite Materials, what did that give you that you didn’t have before and how has it changed your business?
The simple answer us it gave us a presence in the USA, which is a massive market—and gave us a base in the USA with meaningful sales. Also, we have a new nanomaterial that broadened our offering and is now part of our advanced materials Strategic Business Unit. The business itself had 15 plus blue-chip companies as clients. The aim is to cross sell some of our other nanomaterials, such as Graphene and Carbon Nano Tubes, into them. So that is really good news and even more so as we've grown that business with a new $2.6 million contract in April of this year.
Q: You have divided your business into two business units. Resins, Polymers, and Composites, which will concentrate on marketing and selling the newly developed graphene infused carbon fibre pre-impregnated materials (‘pre-preg’). The second unit, Advanced Materials, principally hosts the Group’s silicon carbide (‘SiC’) products and the newly developed graphene inks and pastes for the self-monitoring blood glucose device market. Why was this done and what do you anticipate it will allow you to do?
The key element to making these two strategic business units is focus. These business units are profit and loss driven.Each has a dedicated managing director. One is based in the USA and that is Trevor Rudderham. He’s been on board from the time we bought the company, Advanced Composite Materials, in South Carolina. We also have a new person who has recently started named Keith Broadbent. Keith has come from Ultra Electronics, a large UK defense company. Before that he was running the production for prestigious Princess Yachts and Sunseeker International. So, he knows an awful lot about the composites industry. This really is all about focusing on products and profits by driving sales in this fiscal year.
Q: Huntsman Corporation (‘Huntsman’) for graphene infused Araldite® epoxy resin. What’s happening there at this point? And what is Huntsman expecting to do with the epoxy resin? If it goes through, do you expect this to open up possibilities with similar big chemical companies?
We started our collaboration with Huntsman, a world leader in high end epoxy resins and adhesives, with an exclusivity arrangement about 18 months ago and it's been quite a journey. There are no sales yet but it’s been good for us though because we've learnt an awful lot of know-how about how to mix, choosing appropriate dispersions methods, what cure protocol to adopt and how the surface activations of materials affect our materials. One fundamental thing that it proved to us is that Huntsman did not want any change to the resin once we added in nanomaterials. Generally adding nano materials at low levels will alter the viscosity and downstream processing methods.The minute you do that is when capital expenditure happens and that alerts the finance teams to cash outflows (often not in any budget). The key then is to avoid processing changes and the need for capital spend. The work has produced some fundamental know how on mixing, dispersion and processing. The overall effect produces a result which we call “functional intensity”.
Yes we've got an exclusive with Huntsman and they've been very prescriptive in telling other people that have approached them that they are working with Haydale and no one else, which is great news and very reassuring But in terms of that, they're honed their focus unashamedly on thermal conductivity. Why? Because thermal conductivity can improve thermoset output by up to 100%. In thick section moldings, such as wind turbine blades, for example, if you can reduce the exotherm reaction (heat) resulting from the “setting process” by 50% and the resin cure time by 50% then you have about a 100-percent increase in output. Not only that but the heat management produces a better-quality product, with less rejection and homogeneous cure. Now that is a pretty fundamental improvement if you look at the way that the composite industry is today and the production constraints that exist.
So Huntsman is all about better quality, and speed of output and being able to work on thicker structures. Of course, there is not only one aspect of the composites industry; you've got electrical conductivity some mechanical issues to address as well.We have seen a 20% increase in mechanical performance of a carbon fibre composite, independently verified. That offers a potential weight saving of one fifth if you keep the same mechanical performance. Some of the other things that came out of that work has meant that we have been very successful improving aircraft composites. For example, in conjunction with Airbus and GKN we have produced an aileron that is 600 percent higher in its electrical conductivity, capable of defeating certain levels of lightning strike. Potentially our work could reduce the parasitic copper in an aircraft which can weigh up to 3 tonnes. Now that is a big thing for the aviation industry wishing to find ways of reducing weight.
Q: Haydale has become known as one of the most established expert companies on how to functionalize graphene in the precise way to make any given product possess the properties that your clients are attempting to achieve. Can you detail how that expertise evolved? Did each new customer provide new challenges and discoveries that led you to understanding how graphene can best be functionalized? Or was it just a matter of applying the same fundamental principles and practices to different clients? Or was it a combination of both?
The key thing is everyone's material—when they provide it—is different. Different shapes, sizes, flakes, thicknesses and it all comes with different levels of activated chemicals on the surface. So, if you've got a material that's come with a lot of oxygen on the surface, you're not going to get electrically conductive material because oxygen is an insulator and that may be inappropriate for certain applications. Hence, knowing and understanding the raw untreated materials is critical. That is something we have done for years now—we call it material fingerprinting—knowing what is on the surface of the material that we receive from a range of customers or suppliers is crucial. It may be that it's used with the functional groups already on the surface and it is compatible with the host material. On the other hand, it may not be suitable “chemically” for the application. And if it's not then we will use our own patented process to change the surface activation using our low temperature patented plasma technology. It's all about knowing and understanding what you've got and applying your own technique and processes to get the desired product improvement.
Q: We’ve seen some of your reported work with graphene inks to create film pressure sensors. Can you give us an update on that work and where it now stands commercially?
Several of these projects remain under non-disclosure agreements so that might be difficult to do. But we have got a number of things in the works with our patented pressure sensor. This derived from using our own proprietary inks by the Welsh Center for Printing and Coating at Swansea University. We have a five-year agreement with them that anything produced using our material we get right of first refusal on the intellectual property (IP). With the graphene loaded piezo resistive ink used to make the pressure sensor we filed a patent on this product. There is a range of things that we're looking at the moment, some in the sporting arena, some in protective elements and others in diagnostic mode—I can't really say much more! Suffice to say, we are in the process of getting applications moving from a commercial aspect and there’s a lot of potential activities to go at from adding pressure sensors on flooring to predict foot fall in the retail industry, to measuring impact on athletes engaged in contact sport for example. There are many industrial applications too offering massive opportunities. Its an exciting area, and all derived from Graphene.
Q: Is the aim of your company to move further up the value chain to producing devices that use your functionalized graphene? If so, what kind of devices are you looking to make and in what application areas? And how do you eventually seeing your company being arranged, i.e. 50 percent production of functionalized graphene for clients and 50 percent of your own production of devices based on your graphene?
I think if you look at the market place what you see is many producers trying to go up the value chain by providing some form of added value material. That material forms what I would call a master batch and it comes in many forms. For example, our conductive ink is form of a master batch because it’s using a resin—as a binder-based system—it’s adding graphene and other materials up to 40% to it to create a conductive screen printable ink. And we've been successful in the Far East in our new operation over there in producing some biomedical sensor inks. That's a part of the production line of a self-diagnostic biomedical device, which is blood glucose monitor.
By applying that same principle to what we just talked about with the Huntsman epoxy in terms of supplying a master batch into a customer so they can use as a concentrated form, a bit like a paste like the Coca-Cola syrup, for example: Customers receives the epoxy concentrate, dilutes it down with the neat base resin to what loading they want to use and you have a controlled process. That's really what I see. I don't envisage Haydale as a business selling anyone graphene flakes or powders because that frankly is a “me-too” commodity in my view. It also means we don't have the same element of control because the customer can take the graphene that you supplied—functionalized as appropriate—and it may or may not work because effectively they may have the wrong mixing and processing tools and protocols. And so we've got no control over that. Working with the customer in partnership is key.
What we have fundamentally is a supply chain set up through our collaboration partners, such as AMG in Germany who have some of our plasma reactors and they're ready to produce industrial quantities of masterbatch.
Q: What remains one of the biggest challenges in the commercialization of graphene-enabled products, i.e. price, quality of product, buyer awareness, etc.?
There is definitely a need for customer awareness of what can be done with nanomaterials. Everyone talks about standardization. A lot of the materials in the graphene space derive from effectively mined organic material, such as graphite. Graphite has been mined and sold for over 150 years but does not have any standards. But then you're dealing with things in the microscale as opposed to the nanoscale, which is one magnitude smaller than micro.
So effectively what you end up with graphite is small changes in supply impurities and the like make little or no impact if you put it into the industrial product like carbon brakes shoes or refactory linings.Once you get to the nano-stage, knowing what you've got is very important as little impurities make a difference and therefore, yes, that is one important aspect of the whole process.
For me, inconsistencies need to bethe key message. Standardization is important and it will become very relevant particularly for large organizations seeking consistent volume supply; and I think what we've learned, particularly with the likes of Huntsman, for example, is that the two key questions they want to know is what is your disaster recovery plan for anything you supply us and do you have a more than one production site. Plus, secondly how robust is your supply chain. Those aspects will impact on people going forward.
I do think that the marketplace is getting itself ready.Price is an issue where values for what appears similar products can be markedly different. The trained buyer will always look for the cheaper price but that may be a mistake especially if a material that is twice the price of another only needs a quarter of the loading of the cheaper material. Production is probably in advance of supply.I’ve met many customers who tried nano materials before and said it doesn't work because I think probably they really didn’t understand what the material they had in terms of its functional group, its size, its morphology and the loading levels required. Agglomeration is an often-used complaint. Knowledge is beginning to permeate through the industry, which is good news. There’s lots of companies out there that are willing to take this on because when you change fundamentally products with very small doses of nanomaterials—we’re talking about under half of 1 percent here and sometime less—those massive changes can deliver real value.
Q: What do you think is the most important role for industry groups to play in helping to address those issues?
I think a lot of that is due to understanding of the marketplace. There is still a bit of hype that is still in the industry. Hype is not necessarily always bad as long as it is controlled. Hype helps generate ongoing research and development for all the processes and products. Hype goes astray when it makes exaggerated or wild claims that produce a distrust or misuse of materials in the marketplace. I think that's beginning to be understood. This is where the likes of the Graphene Council and others have a role to play in educating industry generally. We can use any help we can get to do that as we grow the market. There are too many providers chasing a market that is growing but is not large enough to satisfy production capacity today. If that isn’t rectified soon I would expect there to be casualties, and that is already happening.
We meet a number of companies that say, “I’ve tried carbon nanotubes, I’ve tried graphene and it doesn't work.” But in the past the engineer would actually say, “Oh well, I'll put more into this mix because it's bound to improve it.” In our nano world adding less is more. It’s an education process that for me is crucial in the industry we're in today.
I think the Graphene Council has got a role where it's important to inform and in to try to get industry to think about the benefit derived from a consistent, quality supply of material. We spend a lot of time going around the world doing a lot of presentations just trying to grow belief by providing verified data, which is crucial in getting the customer to say, “OK, it's not just been verified by the suppliers it’s been verified by an independent third party.” For me, that’s another area of credibility that needs to be driven by the industry.
A word of caution from someone who spends his life in this area: there are no magic products yet which will revolutionize the way we live. There is great hype surrounding the potential of graphene, but our experience tells us that we should be talking about evolution, not revolution. Our aspirations are great, but we will see transformation over time.
We are already creating transformation, some things at a quicker pace than others. We have combined scientific knowledge, technological innovation and engineering know-how to create products that are significantly better than their predecessors. But we need opinion formers and august bodies to align with the producers and users of nano materials. This is where the likes of the Graphene Council, The National Graphene Institute in Manchester and the EU based Graphene Flagship have major parts to play.
We absolutely believe there is so much more we can do and so much further than we can go, but to do so, we need to work in partnership with other major organizations who are the ‘early adopters’ those prepared to take calculated risks for that is where true economic returns arise – together we must go out into the new territories and explore what is possible. Eyes wide open!
By doing so, we can work together to forge a better future for us all and ultimately, create material change in the world around us. That is the Haydale vision.