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To be a world-leading graphene supplier you need to have a seat at the world’s leading graphene institute

3 September 2019

Categories: Lightweighting

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Advanced Materials

Manchester is the home of graphene, having first been isolated at The University of Manchester in 2004. This wonder material is just one atom thick, which gives it a whole host of superlative properties; extremely strong, flexible, transparent and incredibly conductive. As a result, graphene has many varied applications with the potential to improve the world around us. The aerospace industry is just one such example - by incorporating graphene into existing materials used to build aircraft, safety and performance can be improved while significantly reducing the environmental impact at the same time.

Over previous decades, the development of aluminium enabled people to travel in safety across the globe. Lightweight and abundant, it laid the foundation for the type of aircraft that fill our skies today.

Aircraft designers and manufacturers constantly need to innovate, to become even safer and more fuel efficient, with companies such as Boeing and Airbus embracing the advent of carbon fibre. Today’s carbon fibre aircraft are lighter and greener – using up to 30 per cent less fuel.

Now graphene – known as the world’s first 2D material – has the proven potential to be the next revolutionary step in the development and commercialisation of lighter, safer and more efficient aircraft.

Incorporating graphene in the composite materials used for wings and fuselages adds strength and reduces weight, so decreasing fuel-burn. Similarly, heavy copper wiring and heating coils, which are a requirement for de-icing aircraft, can be replaced with graphene – a much lighter material that is also 200 times stronger than steel and conductive.

The University of Manchester’s latest advanced materials development facility is the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) – a place for industries to innovate and commercialise applications of graphene and other 2D materials.

The University of Manchester, along with the University of Central Lancashire and Haydale, has also developed a series of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to demonstrate the real-world impact of incorporating graphene into carbon-fibre construction. The aircraft, named ‘Juno’, was unveiled in 2018 at Farnborough International Airshow, utilising graphene to reduce weight and increase range. 

Graphene’s potential is huge. It is super-lightweight, immensely strong and more conductive than copper. In a similar way to aluminium and carbon fibre before it, graphene looks set to drive the next phase of aviation innovation.

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