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Graphene and the Coronavirus

Posted By Graphene Council, Friday, March 20, 2020

These are scary times, aren't they? First and foremost, my thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who is directly affected by the current global crisis caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. It's an extremely serious issue that will require worldwide cooperation to overcome.

I have very clear and distinct memories of the previous SARS epidemic. In March 2003, while working at Rice University, I was helping to lead a group of ~50 science and engineering students on an overseas study trip to Hong Kong and Singapore with my former Rice colleague, Dr. Cheryl Matherly (who is now at Lehigh University). We were caught in the middle of the rapidly developing crisis and our travel itinerary had us departing Singapore for Hong Kong on the day the Singapore government warned its own citizens not to travel to Hong Kong!

Fortunately, everyone in our student group made it through that experience safely, and as unsettling as it was, the current situation is much much worse, with as yet unknown - but sure to be significant - social, economic and political ramifications that will most definitely impact future generations around the world.

I am currently based in Bangkok, Thailand, which is a global tourist destination. While we were fortunately to escape the first wave of of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that emanated from China, we're now faced with a second wave imported from Europe. We're not quite under total lockdown here, but things appear to be headed in that direction. It is clear to me form observation that the several governments in the region (Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, to be specific) are applying the lessons they learned from the previous SARS epidemic to help control the current pandemic. This give me hope, and the circumstances in general have given me plenty of time to think and reflect about what - if anything - I and my company, planarTECH, can do to improve this situation.

Graphene: The "Wonder Material"

I was lucky to fall into the world of graphene and 2D materials by accident through acquaintance with another former Rice University colleague, Dr. James Tour, and conversations I had with him 8 years ago. I will not spend a lot of time here talking about the specific properties of graphene as such information is widely available. The European Union's Graphene Flagship project, for example, has an excellent overview. The University of Manchester - where graphene was first isolated and where planarTECH's Chairman, Ray Gibbs, currently serves as the Director of Commercialization for the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre - also has a fantastic YouTube channel with many instructive videos about graphene and its properties.

With all of the amazing properties of graphene, the question is, can it offer any kind of solution to the current pandemic and global crisis?

Academic Work: Graphene's Antiviral Properties

The short answer to the question above is "possibly," but with some caveats. In particular, it would appear that graphene oxide (GO) may play a role in providing a solution.

I should say that I am not a doctor, an epidemiologist or someone with formal training in the biological sciences. I am an engineer by trade, and for the last 8 years, an entrepreneur in the field of graphene. However, since entering the graphene industry, I have grown accustomed to reading academic papers in order to understand the potential applications for graphene.

A paper published in 2015 by researchers at the Huazhong Agricultural University (ironically located in Wuhan, China, where the current pandemic originated) explored the antiviral properties of graphene oxide, and the authors of the paper concluded "that GO and rGO exhibit broad-spectrum antiviral activity toward both DNA virus (PRV) and RNA virus (PEDV) at a noncytotoxic concentration," and that "the broad-spectrum antiviral activity of GO and rGO may shed some light on novel virucide development." While encouraging, it should be noted that the researchers looked specifically at pseudorabies virus (PRV) and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), not the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the current global pandemic.

Another paper published in 2017 by researchers at Southwest University in China looked at cyclodextrin functionalized graphene oxide and it's possible role in combatting respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), concluding that "the curcumin loaded functional GO was confirmed with highly efficient inhibition for RSV infection and great biocompatibility to the host cells." Likewise, a third paper published in 2019 by researchers at Sichuan Agricultural University in China demonstrated that "GO/HY [graphene oxide/hypericin] has antiviral activity against NDRV [novel duck reovirus] both in vitro and in vivo."

The conclusion we can draw from these works is that graphene oxide may offer a platform to fight a variety of viral infections (such as the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus), possibly as some form of coating, though certainly more work needs to be done.

(Note that my good friends over at The Graphene Council had a recent and excellent blog post covering the same 3 articles in a little more detail. And kudos to them for shining light on the topic before me!)
Productization: From Lab to Market

If there's one thing I've learned from the past 8 years being involved with graphene commercialization (and the past 14 years working directly in the Asian supply chain) is that it is one matter to write an excellent academic paper as a proof-of-concept, but it is an entirely different matter to take work from an academic lab and turn it into a real product.

With respect to graphene in general, what we are seeing today is definite movement on the Gartner hype cycle from the Trough of Disillusionment to the Slope of Enlightenment. Real products using graphene are now on the market. One such example is the recent announcement of of a collaboration between UK-based Haydale Graphene Industries plc and Korea-based ICRAFT Co., Ltd. that results in the release of a graphene cosmetic face mask. And I am pleased to be able to say that - in connection with my previous responsibilities for Haydale's Asia-Pacific operations - I had some role (together with my colleague Yong-jae "James" Ji) in getting this product off the ground and into the marketplace.

While this may seem like a trivial accomplishment given the context and seriousness of the current global pandemic, I offer this example as proof that graphene can be utilized in an everyday, cost-sensitive product, and it is not such a great conceptual leap to go from a cosmetic face mask to a protective face mask, which as we all know are in great demand these days (especially here in Asia). I would invite iCRAFT (or anyone else) to consider collaboration with planarTECH to develop such a product. (Above photo courtesy of Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash.)

Productization: Existing Products?

Very much related to this topic and very curious is a recent public announcement by LIGC Applications of its Guardian G-Volt face mask with a graphene-based filtration system. However, my understanding is that LIGC is not employing graphene specifically for it's potential antiviral properties but rather for its potential to enhance a filtration system, including (due to graphene's electrical conductivity) the ability to pass an electrical charge through the mask that "would repel any particles trapped in the graphene mask."

What I find very curious about this case is that subsequent to this announcement, LIGC's Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, which was live, has now been placed under review, and the company's pitch video on YouTube has likewise been made private. I do not know what has happened here - perhaps is was perceived as poor timing? - but as a fellow entrepreneur who is conducting my own crowdfunding campaign, I wish LIGC the best of luck with its product development and ultimate launch. I definitely want to see more viable graphene products in the marketplace.

The Graphene Supply Chain: planarTECH's Role

One of the challenges the graphene industry faces overall is scalability. Very few graphene companies today (if any at all) can produce graphene at the scale, at the right cost, and with the consistent quality such that it can be used for truly high-volume applications. Over the past 8 years, I have met numerous customers, mostly in Asia, who want to use graphene in their products but cannot find a secure and stable supply that meets their expectations on specification, volume, and price.

At planarTECH we're interested in not only the end applications, but also in solving this problem of production scalability. While we have in the past mainly been focused on production systems for graphene and other 2D materials by Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD), we also recently started offering continuous flow production systems for graphene oxide, which we believe can take graphene oxide production from lab-scale, high-cost (grams per week) to production-scale, low-cost (kilograms per hour). We're actively seeking partners to work with us on setting up production and exploration of the application space for graphene oxide, and we're currently conducting a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs to help us expand our business and make graphene a commercial reality. As seen above, we think graphene oxide's antiviral properties can be exploited to make new and useful products.

I should clarify and caution that planarTECH is not in the position today to offer a graphene-based product that can immediately help alleviate current crisis and prevent widespread infection. Unfortunately, such a product is realistically 1-2 years away. But what we can offer is market expertise specific to graphene, production technologies, and experience in taking products from the idea phase to a reality in the marketplace.

Conclusion: Graphene is a Possible Solution

To conclude, I would like to reiterate a few broad points.

• Graphene (graphene oxide in particular) and coatings made from graphene would appear to have antiviral properties as reported in several published academic papers.
• Real commercial products exist that use graphene, but the industry as a whole still faces challenges around scalability, cost and quality.
• An immediate graphene-based solution to alleviate the effects of the global SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic is likely unrealistic, but could be possible in the future.
• planarTECH has a role in the supply chain and is seeking partners, as well as investors via its crowdfunding campaign, to expand its business and help end customers develop useful products.

Tags:  2D materilas  chemical vapour deposition  Cheryl Matherly  Graphene  Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre  Graphene Flagship  graphene oxide  Healthcare  J. Patrick Frantz  James Tour  Lehigh University  planarTECH  Ray Gibbs  Rice University  Yong jae Ji 

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First Graphene's Strong Advances in VFD Development

Posted By Graphene Council, Tuesday, January 28, 2020

First Graphene Limited  is pleased to provide an update of the work conducted in conjunction with 2D Fluidics Pty Ltd on the Vortex Fluidic Device (VFD) at the Company’s facilities at the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC) in Manchester, UK and Flinders University

Background Summary on Graphene Oxide
Graphene oxide (GO) is the chemically modified derivative of graphene, whereby the basal planes and edges have been functionalised with oxygen containing functional groups such as hydroxyl, epoxy and carboxyl groups. These oxygen functionalities make GO hydrophilic and therefore dispersible, forming homogenous colloidal suspensions in water and most organic solvents. This makes it ideal for use in a range of applications.

To date, the most widely used process for the synthesis of graphene oxide is Hummer’s method. This typically  requires strong acids and oxidants, such as potassium chlorate (KClO3), nitric acid (HNO3), concentrated sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and potassium permanganate (KMnO4). Much work has been done to improve the synthesis methods while maintaining high surface oxidation, however these all required strong acids and oxidants.

Through its subsidiary 2D Fluidics Pty Ltd, FGR is developing a more benign processing route for oxidised graphene. The objective is to provide controlled levels of surface oxygen functionality to give better easier compatibility in aqueous and organic systems. This will not incur the higher oxygen (and other defect) levels which result from Hummer’s method and its subsequent reduction steps. It will also provide the ability to “tune or optimise” the surface oxidation level to suit respective applications.

FGR’s method synthesises GO directly from bulk graphite using aqueous H2O2 as the green oxidant. Different energy sources have been used for the conversion of H2O2 molecules into more active peroxidic species, such as a combination of a pulsed Nd:YAG laser and/or other light sources. The irradiation promotes the dissociation of H2O2 into hydroxyl radicals which then leads to surface oxidation.

The technology has been successfully transferred to the FGR laboratories at the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC) in Manchester where it has undergone further development and optimisation to identify, understand and resolve future upscaling issues.

XPS analysis showed that the use of pre-treatment step in combination with the near infrared laser gave oxidised graphene sheets with an average surface oxidation of ~30- 35%: this will enhance compatibility with aqueous systems.

Further trials have already demonstrated that the two-step process is reproducible and versatile, with the ability to process different starting materials of graphite. The multi- disciplinary team has identified that control of the feed rate and energy input will allow us to control the surface oxidation, providing a consistent material that can be tailored as required for a range of applications.

Figure 5 shows that increase in surface oxygen content for two starting materials: graphite ore (top) and PureGRAPH® graphene (bottom). As we go through the two-  stage process, in both cases the surface oxygen functionality increases. The end- product has a range of functional groups, including C-O, C=O and COOH.

Next Steps
Operating parameters will now be established to provide yield data for future use in scaling the system for commercial production. It will also commence examining the end applications including, but not limited to the use in electronic devices, testing levels of toxicity for biological applications, for water filtration membranes and incorporation in membranes for studying anti-fouling properties.

Craig McGuckin, Managing Director of FGR, said, “The complementary characterisation techniques used to confirm the synthesis of oxidised graphene gives us confidence we are on the right route towards fabricating a material which is comparable to  the historical GO fabricated using the conventional Hummers method. We are  now  reviewing end applications and thus exploring a number of avenues which include but are not limited to the use in devices, testing levels of toxicity for biological applications, for water filtration membranes and incorporation in membranes for studying anti-fouling properties.”

Tags:  2D Fluidics Pty Ltd  2D materials  Craig McGuckin  First Graphene  Flinders University  Graphene  Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre  graphene oxide 

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First Graphene to develop graphene-based energy storage materials for supercapacitors

Posted By Graphene Council, Tuesday, September 24, 2019
First Graphene has signed an exclusive worldwide licensing agreement with the University of Manchester to develop graphene-hybrid materials for use in supercapacitors. The licencing agreement is for patented technology for the manufacture of metal oxide decorated graphene materials, using a proprietary electrochemical process.

The graphene-hybrid materials will have the potential to create a new generation of supercapacitors, for use in applications ranging from electric vehicles to elevators and cranes. Supercapacitors offer high power-density energy storage, with the possibility of multiple charge/discharge cycles and short charging times. The market for supercapacitor devices is forecast to grow at 20% per year to approximately USD 2.1 billion by 2022. Growth may, however, be limited by the availability of suitable
materials.

Supercapacitors typically use microporous carbon nanomaterials, which have a gravimetric capacitance between 50 and 150 Farads/g. Research carried out by the University of Manchester shows that high capacitance materials incorporating graphene are capable of reaching up to 500 Farads/g. This will significantly increase the operational performance of supercapacitors in a wide range of applications, as well as increasing the available supply of materials.

Published research1 by Prof. Robert Dryfe and Prof. Ian Kinloch of The University of Manchester reveals how high capacity, microporous materials can be manufactured by the electrochemical processing of graphite raw materials. These use transition metal ions to create metal oxide decorated graphene materials, which have an extremely high gravimetric capacitance, to 500 Farads/g.

Prof. Dryfe has secured funding from the UK EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Council) for further optimisation of metal oxide/graphene materials. Following successful completion of this study, FGR is planning to build a pilot-scale production unit at its laboratories within the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC). It is anticipated that this will be the first step in volume production in the UK, to enable the introduction of these materials to supercapacitor device manufacturers.

Andy Goodwin, Chief Technology Officer of First Graphene Ltd says: “This investment is a direct result of our presence at the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre. It emphasises the importance of effective external relationships with university research partners. The programme is also aligned with the UK government’s industrial strategy grand challenges and we’ll be pursuing further support for the development of our business within the UK.”

James Baker, Chief Executive of Graphene@Manchester, added: “We are really pleased with this further development of our partnership with First Graphene. The University’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is playing a key role in supporting the acceleration of graphene products and applications through the development of a critical supply chain of material supply and in the development of applications for industry. This latest announcement marks a significant step in our Graphene City developments, which looks to create a unique innovation ecosystem here in the Manchester city-region, the home of graphene.”

Tags:  Andy Goodwin  Energy Storage  First Graphene  Graphene  Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre  Ian Kinloch  James Baker  nanomaterials  Robert Dryfe  supercapacitors  University of Manchester 

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First Graphene receives R&D refund

Posted By Graphene Council, Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 2019
First Graphene is pleased to advise it has received a Research and Development refund of over $680,000.

The refund will supplement the Company’s working capital as it advances its graphene commercialisation strategies.

First Graphene is a leading supplier of high-quality, bulk graphene products and is a Tier 1 partner at the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC), Manchester, UK.

Tags:  Bulk Graphene Pricing Report  First Graphene  Graphene  Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre 

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