The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA uses the tagline: “We manufacture the future”.
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.”