Material scientists and nanotechnologists get very excited about the potential of graphene — a one-atom-thick sheet of bonded carbon atoms which is exceptionally strong, lightweight and flexible and is a better conductor than silicon — but they are not the only ones to see huge potential in it. Nokia, Plastic Logic, Philips, Dyson, and BaE systems are among more than 20 industry partners who have pledged £13 million worth of support for a new graphene R&D centre to be established at Cambridge University. The Centre is also backed by more than £12 million of government funding.
It’s unclear exactly what kind of support Nokia et al will be providing the centre but we’ve reached out to Cambridge University for more information and will update this story with any response. Nokia does already have an R&D lab in Cambridge, at the University’s Broers Building — one of a network of labs Nokia operates. According to the website, Nokia’s Cambridge lab studies “physical, chemical and biological phenomena and manipulation of matter at the nanoscale enables generation of knowledge for enhancing human capabilities”.
The new Cambridge Graphene Centre aims to develop graphene from a material with a lot of raw potential — researchers have already been looking at how graphene could improve battery capacity, and exploring its water-repelling properties — to a point where it can “revolutionise flexible, wearable and transparent electronics”. Future industrial applications envisaged by the University are said to lie in the areas of “flexible electronics, energy, connectivity and optoelectronics”. So, hopefully, bendy, see-through wearable smartphones here we come — albeit, not tomorrow.
One of the issues scientists have with graphene to-date is making (i.e. growing) large quantities of it — large enough to be useful for industrial applications. Graphene sheets are also difficult to manipulate and connect with other materials. So one of the projects the Centre will undertake will look specifically at the “manufacturability” of graphene and other, layered, 2D materials — focusing on a growth method called chemical vapour deposition that has been used to enable industrial scale production of other materials, such as diamond, carbon nanotubes and gallium nitride.
As well as tackling graphene manufacturing, the Centre will investigate how graphene can be integrated into networked devices — “with the ultimate vision of creating an ‘Internet of things'” — and look into how it can improve the performance of super-capacitors and batteries. So potentially improving the longevity of consumer electronics devices, such as phones and MP3 players, but also aiming to provide “a more effective energy storage for electric vehicles [and] storage on the grid”.
“Graphene’s potential is beyond doubt, but much more research is needed if we are to develop it to a point where it proves of benefit to society as a whole,” said Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, in a statement.
Professor Andrea Ferrari, who will be the Centre’s Director, added in a statement: “We are now in the second phase of graphene research, following the award of the Nobel Prize to Geim and Novoselov. That means we are targeting applications and manufacturing processes, and broadening research to other two-dimensional materials and hybrid systems. The integration of these new materials could bring a new dimension to future technologies, creating faster, thinner, stronger, more flexible broadband devices.”
The Cambridge Graphene Centre will start “activities” on February 1 this year, although the dedicated research facility isn’t slated to open until the end of the year. Its activities will be funded by a more than £12 million government grant, allocated to the University in December by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. A further £11M of European Research Council funding will support activities with the Graphene Institute in Manchester, and Lancaster University.
Cambridge University’s full release follows below.
A centre for research on graphene, a material which has the potential to revolutionise numerous industries, ranging from healthcare to electronics, is to be created at the University of Cambridge. The University has been a hub for graphene engineering from the very start and now aims to make this “wonder material” work in real-life applications.
The Cambridge Graphene Centre will start its activities on February 1st 2013, with a dedicated facility due to open at the end of the year. Its objective is to take graphene to the next level, bridging the gap between academia and industry. It will also be a shared research facility with state-of-the-art equipment, which any scientist researching graphene will have the opportunity to use.
The Centre’s activities will be funded by a Government grant worth more than £12 million, which was allocated to the University in December by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The rest of this money will support projects focusing both on how to manufacture high-quality graphene on an industrial scale, and on developing some of its potential applications.
Graphene is a one-atom thick layer of graphite with remarkable properties. It is exceptionally strong, yet also lightweight and flexible, enables electrons to flow faster than silicon and functions as a transparent conductor. Researchers in industry and academia are keen to harness its potential to make significant technological advances. This work might lead to numerous new devices and applications which could then be commercialised by industry and help to boost economic growth.
There is still much to be done before that early promise becomes reality. The first job for those working in the Cambridge Graphene Centre will be to find ways of manufacturing and optimising graphene films, dispersions and inks so that it can be used to good effect.
Professor Andrea Ferrari, who will be the Centre’s Director, said: “We are now in the second phase of graphene research, following the award of the Nobel Prize to Geim and Novoselov. That means we are targeting applications and manufacturing processes, and broadening research to other two-dimensional materials and hybrid systems. The integration of these new materials could bring a new dimension to future technologies, creating faster, thinner, stronger, more flexible broadband devices.”
Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “Graphene’s potential is beyond doubt, but much more research is needed if we are to develop it to a point where it proves of benefit to society as a whole. The pioneering work of Cambridge engineers and scientists in fields such as carbon nanotechnology and flexible electronics, coupled with our record working with industry and launching spin-out firms based on our research, means that we are in a unique position to take graphene to that next level.”
Professor Bill Milne, who will be part of the Centre’s management group, said: “Graphene has amazing fundamental properties but at the moment we cannot produce it in a perfect form over large areas. Our first aim is to look at ways of making graphene that ensure it is still useful at the end of the process. We have to find modes of production that are consistently effective – and there is still a lot of work to be done in this respect.”
One such project, led by Dr Stephan Hofmann, a Reader and specialist in nanotechnology, will look specifically at the manufacturability of graphene and other, layered, 2D materials. At the moment, sheets of graphene that are just one atom thick are difficult to grow in a controllable manner, manipulate, or connect with other materials.
Dr Hofmann’s research team will focus on a growth method called chemical vapour deposition (CVD), which has already opened up other materials, such as diamond, carbon nanotubes and gallium nitride, to industrial scale production.
“The process technology will open up new horizons for nanomaterials, built layer by layer, which means that it could lead to an amazing range of future devices and applications,” Dr Hofmann said.
The Government funding for the Centre is complemented by strong industrial support, worth an additional £13 million, from over 20 partners, including Nokia, Dyson, Plastic Logic, Philips and BaE systems. A further £11M of European Research Council funding will support activities with the Graphene Institute in Manchester, and Lancaster University.
Its work will focus on taking graphene from a state of raw potential to a point where it can revolutionise flexible, wearable and transparent electronics. The Centre will target the manufacture of graphene on an industrial scale, and applications in the areas of flexible electronics, energy, connectivity and optoelectronics.
Professor Yang Hao, of Queen Mary, University of London, will lead Centre activities targeting connectivity, so that graphene can be integrated into networked devices, with the ultimate vision of creating an “internet of things”.
Professor Clare Grey, from Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, will lead the activities targeting the use of graphene in super-capacitors and batteries for energy storage. The research could, ultimately, provide a more effective energy storage for electric vehicles, storage on the grid, as well as boosting the energy storage possibilities of personal devices such as MP3 players and mobile phones.