First Graphene Ltd has been accepted as an Associate Member of the EU Graphene Flagship. The company joins the €1 billion EU funded programme at a crucial time as the Flagship transitions from R&D to commercialisation and requires graphene manufacturers with industrial supply capability.
The Graphene Flagship has a budget of €1 billion and coordinates nearly 170 academic and industrial research groups in 21 countries and has more than 90 associate members. FGR through its UK subsidiary is the first Australian entity to be admitted to the consortium.
The Graphene Flagship is tasked with bringing together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene from the realm of academic laboratories into European society in the space of 10 years, thus generating economic growth, new jobs and new opportunities.
This follows the Company also joining the BSI and ISO/TC229 working groups for the development of graphene characterisation standards, thereby ensuring alignment of the Company’s quality processes with the emerging international standards.
First Graphene intends to stay at the leading edge in terms of controlling the quality of graphene related products. The Company continues to invest in its processing capability through measurement and automation and is a Tier 1 Member of the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre at the University of Manchester with direct access to world-class analytical equipment and techniques and supporting expertise. The Company will continue to invest in analytical methods and process tools to ensure world leading PureGRAPH® product quality for our customers.
Craig McGuckin, Managing Director for First Graphene Ltd, said, “FGR joining the EU Graphene Flagship at this time is auspicious, as FGR continues to commercialise it PureGRAPH® range of graphene powders. As the world leader in the production of large volume, high quality graphene powders membership of this organisation is at an appropriate time as various projects transition from R&D to commercialisation.”
Recent advances on the stabilization and manipulation of chiral magnetization configurations in systems consisting in alternating atomic layers of ferromagnetic and non-magnetic materials hold promise of innovation in spintronics technology. The low dimensionality of the systems promotes spin orbit driven interfacial effects like antisymmetric Dzyaloshinskii-Moriya interactions (DMI) and surface magnetic anisotropy, whose relative strengths may be tuned to achieve stable nanometer sized magnetic objects with fixed chirality, which are proposed as carriers of information in future spin-orbitronics technology.
While in most of the cases this is obtained by engineering complex multilayers stacks in which interlayer dipolar fields become important, a research team guided by Dr. Paolo Perna at IMDEA Nanociencia and by Oksana Chubykalo-Fesenko at ICMM-CSIC, has considered a simple epitaxial trilayer in which a ferromagnet (namely Cobalt, Co), with variable thickness, is embedded between a heavy metal and graphene. The latter enhances the perpendicular magnetic anisotropy of the system, promotes a Rashba-type DMI, and can sustain very long spin diffusion length. The work, mostly performed by the PhD student they supervise Mr. Pablo Olleros-Rodriguez, consists in the development of a layer-resolved micromagnetic model capable to account for the low dimensionality nature of the interactions, which leads to macroscopic parameters that depend on the thickness of the ferromagnetic layer.
We demonstrate that our model correctly reproduces the experimental magnetization configurations and the spin reorientation transition. In particular, we are able to predict the experimental parameters that will lead to Néel, Bloch or mixed chiral skyrmions. Our results demonstrate that for samples with Co thickness larger than 3.6 nm intrinsic mixed (predominantly Bloch-type) skyrmions are stabilized in 256 nm wide dots.
This work is a collaboration between "SpinOrbitronics" group led by Paolo Perna (IMDEA Nanociencia) and Oksana Chubykalo-Fesenko (ICMM-CSIC) and has been partially funded by the FLAG ERA grant SOgraphMEM, NANOMAGCOST (Comunidad de Madrid), FUN-SOC-RTI2018, SKYTRON-FIS2016, and the Severo Ochoa Programme for Centres of Excellence in R&D awarded to IMDEA Nanociencia.
FLAG-ERA is an ERA-NET (European Research Area Network) initiative that aims to create synergies between new research projects and the Graphene Flagship and Human Brain Project. The goals and activities of FLAG-ERA are, in close connection with the Flagships, to set up mechanisms to facilitate and encourage integration of nationally/regionally funded research into the Flagship work plans. The project SOgraphMEM, recommended for funding to the national/regional research funding organisations of FLAG-ERA by the Joint Translational Call (JTC) 2019 Steering Committee, has recently been chosen as Partnering Project of the Graphene Flagship amongst other 16 newly-funded projects that will receive around €11 million in funding overall. SOgraphMEM is coordinated by Dr. Perna and will investigate the promising of graphene in spintronics, particularly it will test specific materials for a novel branch of spintronics called spin-orbitronics exploiting electron spin and momentum.
The current pandemic caused by COVID-19 brought to light an urgent need to devise new technologies to protect the human body from its immediate environment. Graphene and related materials are promising candidates for the design of a novel generation of surfaces to help deal with the daily challenges posed by COVID-19, as well as similar future diseases.
The Graphene Flagship Management Panel recognised that it is vital for the Graphene Flagship, as one of the largest Europe Science and Technology projects, to make use of all its collective and accumulated knowledge of graphene and related materials to fight the current pandemic – and those that may come in the future. To this end, it has assembled a targeted and multidisciplinary Working Group, comprising companies and researchers from across the consortium. The group's ultimate objective is to fully exploit the potential of graphene and related materials in order to contribute to the global front against this unprecedented societal challenge.
The Working Group aims to establish new connections between researchers, propose relevant topics for future funding calls, and initiate discussions with funders and stakeholders, with the ultimate ambition of making the best use of graphene and related materials in fields such as virology, biosensing and many others.
The Leader of the Working Group is Alberto Bianco, Graphene Flagship Work Package Deputy for Health and Environment, and the Deputy Leader is Paolo Samorì, Graphene Flagship Work Package Deputy for Functional Foams and Coatings. The members of the working Group are Andrea Ferrari, Graphene Flagship Science and Technology Officer, Mar García-Hernández, Work Package Leader for Enabling Materials, Amaia Zurutuza, Scientific Director of Graphene Flagship Partner Company Graphenea and Work Package Deputy for Wafer-scale System Integration, Cinzia Spinato, Graphene Flagship Business Developer at Graphene Flagship Partner ICN2, and Anna Helman, Science Officer at the Flagship partner European Science Foundation. The Working Group will also include virology experts Francesco Stellacci, Professor of Supramolecular Nanomaterials and Interfaces at Flagship Partner EFPL, Arben Merkoçi, ICREA Professor at Flagship Partner ICN2 and Member of the Sensors Work Package.
The Working Group will have a 360-degree approach, covering fundamental to applied solutions. The group will investigate:
• The inhibition of the virus by graphene and related materials dispersed in solutions
• Whether graphene and related materials have the same capacity as antivirals as already demonstrated against bacteria
• How to modify graphene and related materials with antiviral agents
• How to design chemically tailored materials to either promote viruses' adhesion and inhibit their biological activity once adsorbed, or repel viruses
• How to design coated surfaces better able to withstand repeated cleaning cycles
• How to formulate disinfectant solutions and detergents containing graphene and related materials to clean surfaces
• How to design disposable masks, aprons and wearable tissues, with higher impermeability to viruses
• How to develop personal protective equipment technologies able to act as a barrier between the environment and human body
• How to create smart tissue, embedding by design not only anti-viral characteristics, but also with other functions
• How to design new chemical, electrochemical and optical sensors with high specificity for early diagnostics, and for portable point-of-care devices
• The wider challenges posed by global pandemics, such as how graphene and related materials can improve remote working: for example, by improving telecoms and datacoms, or through the development of more efficient batteries for a new green society.
"We are exploring the use of graphene to inhibit the infectivity of viral particles, as well as designing multifunctional graphene conjugates for conductive surface coatings," explains Alberto Bianco, Leader of the Graphene Flagship's Coronavirus Working Group. The surface coatings could be effective against the virus in two ways: either by directly repelling the virus, or by promoting its adhesion and destroying it once adsorbed.
Amaia Zurutuza, Member of the Graphene Flagship's Coronavirus Work Group and Scientific Director of Graphene Flagship industrial partner Graphenea, emphasises the importance of the group's collaboration with leading EU companies. "Graphenea is supplying graphene for diagnostics and treatment, and we are working on a number of virus-related projects," she explains.
"Graphene and related materials are promising candidates to develop the next generation of surfaces, to help with the daily challenges posed by the virus. The Graphene Flagship cannot and will not disregard such a major societal challenge," comments Paolo Samorì, Deputy Leader of the Working Group.
Prof. Andrea. C. Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship and Chair of its Management Panel, adds: "In such a difficult and unusual time, it has never been more important to work together. The Graphene Flagship has a proven track record of delivering its promises. Many of our partners and associated members, both industrial and academic, are already working to develop new technologies based on graphene and related materials to help with the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics. This Working Group will create many opportunities for collaborations both within and externally to the Graphene Flagship. We are convinced graphene and related materials have a role to play to help society tackle this challenging problem, and our Working Group will spearhead the Flagship's joint efforts in this area."
The use of more renewable energy sources in Europe will rely on the smart electric grids, able to distribute and store energy matching production and demand. Circuit breakers are safety-critical components of electric grids, associated with very high and recurring maintenance costs. By adding graphene to the circuit breakers, the electrical system will become more robust and reduce the costs of maintenance drastically.
Low voltage circuit breakers, common in domestic and industrial applications, need grease to function properly. The grease is applied to all circuit breakers during manufacturing. The problem is that the grease stiffens and dries out with age and has a narrow temperature range. This leads to a metal-to-metal wear that must be serviced at high maintenance costs, and to an increased risk of circuit breaker failure. Lack of lubrication is the number one problem that test technicians find when servicing circuit breakers in the field.
Self-lubrication properties enables maintenance free operation
Graphene is a material with self-lubricating properties; the Swedish company ABB, partner of the Graphene Flagship research program, has recently demonstrated that multifunctional graphene-metal composite coatings could improve the tribological (interactive surfaces in relative motion) performance of metal contacts. ABB will thus lead a new project, starting in April 2020, with the aim to take such graphene-based composites to commercial applications.
The project, named “Circuitbreakers” is one of eleven selected Spearhead projects funded by the Graphene Flagship, Europe’s biggest initiative on graphene research, involving more than 140 universities and industries located in 21 countries. Chalmers University of Technology is the coordinator of the Graphene Flagship.
Prototype for industrial use
All spearheads will start in April 2020, building on previous scientific work performed in the Graphene Flagship in last years. The aim of the Circuitbreakers project is to develop a fully functional and tested prototype ready for industrial implementation in just three years. This new generation of circuit breakers will be self-lubricant and have a wider temperature range than existing circuit breaker options. This will enable maintenance-free operation, which will save business huge costs and reduce the risk on any undesired outage of the electrical system due to circuit breaker failure.
Extensive experience of graphene- and graphene-based composites
Prof. Vincenzo Palermo and Dr. Jinhua Sun from the Department of Industrial and Materials Science, Chalmers University of Technology will support ABB in the spearhead project providing new solutions to process graphene in coatings, to fabricate graphene-enhanced circuit breaker prototypes for practical application in the industrial scale. The research group has more than ten years of research experience in graphene and graphene-based composites. Their knowledge on characterization and processing of graphene-based materials will help industrial partners to select the appropriate graphene raw materials.
Prof. Palermo and Dr. Sun will help work on developing new chemical procedures and industrial applicable processing methods to coat graphene on the major component of circuit breakers. In addition, the advanced characterization techniques available at Chalmers Materials Analysis Laboratory (CMAL) will be important to evaluate the added value of graphene on the performance of circuit breaker.
Graphene Flagship researchers at RWTH Aachen University, Germany and ONERA-CNRS, France, in collaboration with researchers at the Peter Grunberg Institute, Germany, the University of Versailles, France, and Kansas State University, US, have reported a significant step forward in growing monoisotopic hexagonal boron nitride at atmospheric pressure for the production of large and very high-quality crystals.
Hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) is the unsung hero of graphene-based devices. Much progress over the last decade was enabled by the realisation that 'sandwiching' graphene between two hBN crystals can significantly improve the quality and performance of the resulting devices. This finding paved the way to a series of exciting developments, including the discoveries of exotic effects such as magic-angle superconductivity and proof-of-concept demonstrations of sensors with unrivalled sensitivity.
Until now, the most widely used hBN crystals came from the National Institute of Material Science in Tsukuba, Japan. These crystals are grown using a process at high temperatures (over 1500°C) and extremely high pressures (over 40,000 times atmospheric pressure). "The pioneering contribution by the Japanase researchers Taniguchi and Watanabe to graphene research is invaluable", begins Christoph Stampfer from Graphene Flagship Partner RWTH Aachen University, Germany. "They provide hundreds of labs around the world with ultra-pure hBN at no charge. Without their contribution, a lot of what we are doing today would not be possible."
However, this hBN growth method comes with some limitations. Among them is the small crystal size, which is limited to a few 100 µm, and the complexity of the growth process. This is suitable for fundamental research, but beyond this, a method with better scalability is needed. Now Graphene Flagship researchers tested hBN crystals grown with a new methodology that works at atmospheric pressure, developed by a team of researchers led by James Edgar at Kansas State University, US. This new approach shows great promise for more demanding research and production.
"I was very excited when Edgar proposed that we test the quality of his hBN", says Stampfer. "His growth method could be suitable for large-scale production". The method for growing hBN at atmospheric pressure is indeed much simpler and cheaper than previous alternatives and allows for the isotopic concentration to be controlled.
"The hBN crystals we received were the largest I have ever seen, and they were all based either on isotopically pure boron-10 or boron-11" says Jens Sonntag, a graduate student at Graphene Flagship Partner RWTH Aachen University. Sonntag tested the quality of the flakes first using confocal Raman spectroscopy. In addition, Graphene Flagship partners in ONERA-CNRS, France, led by Annick Loiseau, carried out advanced luminescence measurements. Both measurements indicated high isotope purity and high crystal quality.
However, the strongest evidence for the high hBN qualitycame from transport measurements performed on devices containing graphene sandwiched between monoisotopic hBN. They showed equivalent performance to a state-of-the-art device based on hBN from Japan, with better performance in some areas.
"This is a clear indication of the extremely high quality of these hBN crystals," says Stampfer. "This is great news for the whole graphene community, because it shows that it is, in principle, possible to produce high quality hBN on a large scale, bringing us one step closer to real applications based on high-performance graphene electronics and optoelectronics. Furthermore, the possibility of controlling the isotopic concentration of the crystals opens the door to experiments that were not possible before."
Mar García-Hernández, Work Package Leader for Enabling Materials, adds: "Free-standing graphene, being the thinnest material known, exhibits a large surface area and, therefore, is extremely sensitive to its surrounding environment, which, in turn, results in substantial degradation of its exceptional properties. However, there is a clear strategy to avoid these deleterious effects: encapsulating graphene between two protective layers."
García-Hernández continues: "When graphene is encapsulated by hBN, it reveals its intrinsic properties. This makes hBN an essential material to integrate graphene into current technologies and demonstrates the importance of devising new scalable synthetic routes for large-scale hBN production. This work not only provides a new and simpler path to produce high-quality hBN crystals on a large scale, but it also enables the production of monoisotopic material, which further reduces the degradation of graphene when encapsulated by two layers."
Andrea C. Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship and Chair of its Management Panel, adds: "This is a nice example of collaboration between the EU and the US, which we fostered via numerous bilateral workshops. Devising alternative approaches to produce high-quality hBN crystals is crucial to enable us to exploit the ultimate properties of graphene in opto-electronics applications. Furthermore, this work will lead to significant progress in fundamental research."
Billions of cubic meters of water are consumed each year. However, lots of the water resources such as rivers, lakes and groundwater are continuously contaminated by discharges of chemicals from industries and urban area. It’s an expensive and demanding process to remove all the increasingly present contaminants, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, perfluorinated compounds, heavy metals and pathogens. Graphil is a project that aims to create a market prototype for a new and improved way to purify water, using graphene.
Graphene enhanced filters for water purification (GRAPHIL) is one of eleven selected spearhead projects funded by The Graphene Flagship, Europe’s biggest initiative on graphene research, involving more than 140 universities and industries located in 21 countries. Chalmers is the coordinator of the Graphene Flagship.
The purpose of the spearhead projects which will start in April 2020, building on previous scientific work, is to take graphene-enabled prototypes to commercial applications. Planned to end in 2023, the project aims to produce a compact filter that can be connected directly onto a household sink or used as a portable water purifying device, to ensure all households have access to safe drinking water.
"This is a brand-new research line for Chalmers in the Graphene flagship, and it will be a strategic one. The purification of water is a key societal challenge for both rich and poor countries and will become more and more important in the next future. In Graphil, hopefully we will use our knowledge of graphene chemistry to produce a new generation of water purification system via interface engineering of graphene-polysulfone nanocomposites," says Vincenzo Palermo, professor at the Department of industrial and materials science.
Graphene enhanced filters outperforms other water purification techniques
Most of the water purification processes today are based on several different techniques. These are adsorption on granular activated carbon that removes organic contaminants, membrane filtration that removes for example, bacteria or large pollutants, and reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis is the only technique today that can remove organic or inorganic emerging concern contaminants with high efficiency. Reverse osmosis has however high electrical and chemical costs both from the operation and the maintenance of the system.
Many existing contaminants present in Europe’s water sources, including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides and surfactants, are also resistant to conventional purification technologies. Consequently, the number of cases of contamination of ground and even drinking water is rapidly increasing throughout the world, and it is matter of great environmental concern due to their potential effect on the human health and ecosystem.
Graphil is instead proposing to use graphene related material polymer composites. Thanks to the unique properties of graphene, the composite material favours the absorption of organic molecules. Its properties also allow the material to bind ions and metals, thus reducing the number of inorganic contaminants in water. Furthermore, unlike typical reverse osmosis, granular activated carbon and microfiltration train systems, the graphene system will provide a much simpler set up for users.
Graphil will not just replace all the old techniques, but significantly out-perform them both in efficiency and cost. The filter works as a simple microfiltration membrane, and this simplicity requires lower operation pressures, amounting in reduced water loss and lower maintenance costs for end users.
Upscaling the technique for industrial use
Chalmers has, in collaboration with other partners of the Graphene Flagship, investigated during the last years the fundamental structure-property relationships of graphene related material and polysulfones composition in water purification. A filter has then been successfully developed and validated in an industrial environment by the National Research Council of Italy (CNR) and the water filtration supplier Medica.
Now the task is to integrate the results and prove that the production can be upscaled in a complete system for commercial use.
Prof. Vincenzo Palermo and Dr. Zhenyuan Xia from the department of Industrial and Materials Science, Chalmers will support Graphil with advanced facilities for chemical, structural and mechanical characterization and processing of graphene oriented-polymer composite on the Kg scale. Chalmers’ role in the project will be to perform chemical functionalization of the graphene oxide and of the polymer fibers used in the filters, to enhance their compatibility and their performance in capturing organic contaminants.
"We are very excited to begin this new activity in collaboration with partners from United Kingdom, France and Italy, and I hope that my previous ten years’ international working experience in Italy and Sweden will help us to better fulfil this project," says Zhenyuan Xia, researcher at the Department of industrial and materials science.
Graphil is a multidisciplinary project that consists of both academic and industry partners. The academic partners include Chalmers, the National Research Council of Italy (CNR) and the University of Manchester. The industrial partners are Icon Lifesaver, Medica SpA and Polymem S.A – all European industry leaders in the water purification sector. The aim is to have a working filter prototype that can be commercialized by the industry for household water treatment and portable water purification.
The Graphene Flagship is one of the largest research projects funded by the European Commission. With a budget of €1 billion over 10 years, it represents a new form of joint, coordinated research, forming Europe's biggest ever research initiative. The Flagship is tasked with bringing together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene from academic laboratories into European society, thus generating economic growth, new jobs and new opportunities.
The total budget of the spearhead project GRAPHIL will be 4.88 million EURO and it will start from April 2020 with a total period of 3 years.
A day that not only saw a solar eclipse, Friday, 20 March 2015, marked the start of a materials revolution: the opening of the National Graphene Institute (NGI). Since it opened its doors the NGI has played host to some of the world’s most famous faces and set the ball rolling in the advancement of graphene and other two-dimensional materials.
With its unique architectural design the NGI was designed to allow industry and academics to work side by side on new and exciting ideas.
Five years on we take a look at some of the highlights.
No sooner had the paint had dried, did we see the first graphene product: the launch of the graphene lightbulb. This demonstrated the practical uses of graphene and how it could be translated into everyday products.
In June, Manchester hosted the Graphene Flagship’s Graphene Week. The world’s largest graphene and related 2D materials conference. It also included the premiere of Graphene Suite, commissioned by Brighter Sound, the NGI’s composer in residence Sara Lowes collaborated with Professor Cinzia Casirgahi and fellow researchers to create a six-part piece which explored the relationship between science and music.
October saw President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China visit the NGI. He saw the some of the latest developments in graphene applications and took at tour of the world-class facilities.
To conclude the year, the NGI was crowned Major Building Project of the Year at the annual British Construction Industry Awards. Designed by Jestico & Whiles, the NGI fought off strong competition from six other shortlisted schemes including the Weston Library at Oxford University, Five Pancras Square at Kings Cross and the Brooks Building at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The city of Manchester played host to the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) and held the title of European City of Science throughout 2016. To coincide with this, partnering with the Science and Industry Museum, the first graphene exhibition was launched: Wonder Materials: Graphene and beyond. Looking into the past, present and future, this turnkey exhibition brought graphene to life, taking visitors on an immersive journey inside laboratory clean rooms and stimulating learning environments. The exhibition then went tour to Hong Kong.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the NGI in October. Amongst visiting graphene researchers and taking a tour of the impressive cleanrooms, The Duke and Duchess also celebrated the University’s Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD).
An ultralight high-performance mechanical watch made with graphene was unveiled in January thanks to a unique collaboration. The University of Manchester collaborated with watchmaking brand Richard Mille and McLaren F1 to create the world’s lightest mechanical chronograph by pairing leading graphene research with precision engineering.
April saw a scientific breakthrough when a team of researchers led by Professor Rahul Raveendran Nair, developed a graphene oxide membrane which was able to filter out common salts. Known as a ‘graphene sieve’ this demonstrated real-world potential of providing clean drinking water for millions of people who struggle to access adequate clean water sources. The team have gone on to turn whisky clear and produce membranes for oil separation.
Sprinting into 2018 the first graphene running shoes were launched. Collaborating with inov-8, the brand has been able to develop a graphene-enhanced rubber. Rubber outsoles were developed that in testing outlasted 1,000 miles and were scientifically proven to be 50% harder wearing.
A new national graphene characterisation service was launched, in partnership with the National Physical Laboratory. The service, allows companies to understand the properties of graphene and was established to accelerate the industrialisation of graphene in the UK – forging the missing link between graphene research and development, and its application in next generation products.
The summer also saw Newcastle host the Great Exhibition of the North. Once again we partnered with Brighter Sound to launch The Hexagon Experiment. Music, art and science collided in an explosive celebration of women’s creativity. The Hexagon Experiment featured live music, conversations and original commissions from some of the North’s most exciting musicians and scientists.
News of the ‘graphene sieve’ attracted global attention in 2017, which led to Lifesaver partnering with the NGI. The 18 month project focuses on developing graphene technology that can be used for enhanced water filtration, with the goal of creating a proprietary and patented, cutting-edge product capable of eliminating an even wider range of hazardous contaminants than currently removed by its existing high performance ultra-filtration process.
2019 also saw the first operational year of the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre. Focusing on the rapid development and scale up of graphene and two dimensional materials. Together, the NGI and GEIC provide an unrivalled critical mass of graphene expertise and infrastructure. The two facilities reinforce Manchester's position as a globally leading knowledge-base in graphene research and commercialisation.
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.
Graphene Flagship researchers at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) and its spin-off, Graphene Flagship Associate Member BeDimensional, in cooperation with ENEA have successfully combined graphene with tandem perovskite-silicon solar cells to achieve efficiencies of up to 26.3%. Moreover, they envisioned a new manufacturing method that, thanks to the versatility of graphene, allows to reduce production costs and could lead to the production of large-area solar panels. Graphene-based tandem solar cells almost double the efficiency of pure silicon.
Laws of physics limit the maximum efficiency of silicon solar cells to 32%. For that reason, scientists have spent decades trying to come up with other alternatives, such as III-V and perovskites. However, the latter present several manufacturing challenges, and scaling up the production of solar panels is a key step towards success. With 'tandem cells', scientists had previously combined the advantages of both silicon and perovskites – however stability, efficiency and large-scale manufacturing still seemed like a far-fledged dream.
But then graphene came into play – and it could be a game changer. Graphene Flagship researchers identified its potential for energy harvesting, and in fact have dedicated two different industry-oriented 'Spearhead Projects' to dig into the possibilities of graphene-based solar cells. This new paper published in Joule – a reference journal in the field of energy research – is yet another proof that graphene and related layered materials will enable the commercialisation of more efficient and cost-effective large area solar panels.
Aldo di Carlo, lead author and researcher in Graphene Flagship partner University of Rome Tor Vergata, explains: "Our new approach to manufacture graphene-enabled tandem solar cells provides a double advantage. First, it can be applied to enhance all the different types of perovskite solar cells currently available, including those processed at high temperatures. But more importantly, we can incorporate our graphene using the widespread 'solution manufacturing methods', key to further deploy our technologies industrially and deliver large-surface, graphene-enabled solar panels."
Francesco Bonaccorso, co-author, co-founder of Graphene Flagship spin-off BeDimensional, says: "This innovative approach proposed in the context of the Graphene Flagship is the first step toward the development of tandem solar cells delivering an efficiency higher than the limit of single junction silicon devices. Layered materials will be pivotal in reaching this target.".
Emmanuel Kymakis, Graphene Flagship Energy Generation Work Package Leader, says: "There are some compatibility issues that have to be tackled before the full exploitation of the perovskite-Si tandem PVs concept. This pioneering work demonstrates that the integration of GRMs inks with on-demand morphology and tuneable optoelectronic properties in a tandem structure, can lead to high-throughput industrial manufacturing. Graphene and related materials improve the performance, stability and scalability of these devices.
The stacked silicon-perovskite configuration will act as the foundation of the new Graphene Flagship Spearhead Project GRAPES, in which a pilot line fabrication of graphene-based perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells will take place, paving the way towards breaking the 30% efficiency barrier and a significant decrease on the Levelized Cost of Energy."
Andrea C. Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship and Chair of its Management Panel, adds: "The application of graphene and related materials to solar energy generation was recognized as a strategic priority since the start of the Graphene Flagship. The first graphene-based solar farm is being set up this year. These new results underpin our effort for the following 3 years to produce panels defining the state of the art. This also shows how the work of the Graphene Flagship strongly aligns with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals."
Frontier IP, a specialist in commercialising university intellectual property, today announces that portfolio company Cambridge Raman Imaging Limited has been awarded €140,000 by the European Union's Graphene Flagship to accelerate development of its innovative graphene-enabled scanning Raman microscope.
The Company, a spin out from the University of Cambridge and the Politecnico di Milano in Italy, was incorporated in March 2018 to develop and commercialise the joint work of both universities to create graphene-based ultra-fast lasers. Frontier IP owns 33.3 per cent of the Company.
Cambridge Raman Imaging is initially developing a Raman-imaging scanning microscope to diagnose and track tumors, and for other detection applications.
The technology uses graphene to modulate ultra-short pulses of light that can be synchronised in time and are much lower cost than conventional systems.
The Company's scanning microscope will target real-time digital images of fresh tissue samples to detect and show the extent of tumours, their response to drug treatments and to allow surgeons to see if a cancer has been completely removed.
Existing histopathology technologies mean samples taken from a patient must be stained and sent to a laboratory for analysis, including during operations. Cambridge Raman Imaging's lasers will be compact enough to use in an operating theatre, speeding up progress. The global market size for tumour analysis and tracking has been estimated to be £9 billion a year, according to Grandview Research.
Potential future applications include endoscopic examination, scanning body fluids for pathogens or tumour cells, and imaging semiconductors or proteins.
The Graphene Flagship is one of the largest research initiatives ever funded by the EU, tasked with bringing together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene from academia and into society.
Paul Mantle, Cambridge Raman Imaging director, said: "This technology has the potential to revolutionise patient care by giving the clinician accurate information on tumour type and response to treatment."
Neil Crabb, chief executive officer of Frontier IP Group, said: "Cambridge Raman Imaging is our first spin out to develop a graphene-based technology. Although the first applications are in healthcare, we believe there could be broader applications in other industries. We're delighted the EU Graphene Flagship recognises the potential of the technology with the grant award to accelerate its development "