By Andy Goodwin, Chief Technology Officer at First Graphene, a company that produces some of the world’s highest quality graphene for use in the industrial composites, automotive and energy storage industries.

Since graphene was first isolated at The University of Manchester in 2004, there has been huge interest in how it will advance a range of industries from transport to technology. There have been significant developments since its isolation: graphene products are starting to be produced, and researchers globally are exploring further uses of the material, however it takes time to build trust throughout the supply chain. Graphene is not the only material to have taken time to commercialise. Silicon conductors were invented in the 1940s but took until the 1960s/70s to be used widely, and carbon fibre is only just being used in high-street cars, having been invented in the 1950s. However, the commercialisation of graphene is about to be accelerated.

Graphene’s unique properties mean there is a vast range of applications for the material, with strengthening and lightweighting being one of the most significant opportunities. Combining 0.7% of graphene to a material typically results in a greater than 30% increase in strength, resulting in 30% less of the original material needing to be used – equalling a 30% reduction in weight. Lightweighting is particularly useful for aerospace and automotive manufacturers and will be increasingly useful as the popularity of electric vehicles grows. In addition to weight reduction, graphene will have other benefits for electric vehicles: applications in batteries and supercapacitors that will enable higher power density, shorter charge time and longer battery life.

While graphene has a range of applications, to grow the market the material needs to demonstrate it is better than the current alternative. The opening of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) in December 2018 now gives the graphene industry the opportunity to demonstrate graphene’s benefits to end users.

The GEIC will speed up testing, enabling companies like First Graphene to prove validity and build applications with end users. The centre offers companies the facilities and expertise to conduct tests to find new applications which can be independently tested by researchers at the centre. End users can also explore how graphene can be used in their projects with researchers, developing the required trust needed within the supply chain. The First Graphene team visited the GEIC in June and signed up to be a Tier One partner within a week. The decision to be a partner was easy: to be a world leading graphene supplier you need to have a seat at the world’s leading graphene institute. 

While we believe Manchester specifically will take the lead on the development of graphene on a global stage, the wider UK and Europe are also important markets and a test bed for graphene. The UK government has funding in place for companies looking to create new products with advanced materials such as graphene, and there is a high demand for graphene products with large clusters of automotive and industrial engineering companies – key end users. First Graphene is primed to access this market with a robust manufacturing and supply platform, which includes a captive supply of high-quality graphite and a 100 tonne per year production facility. The partnership with the GEIC will help them demonstrate the benefits of graphene through good science and engineering to reinforce their position as a supplier of excellence for end users.

Representatives from Manchester will be attending JEC World 2019 in Paris in March. If you would be interested in joining us and finding out more about the GEIC, then please click here to connect with the team.




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