Graphene has a kind of magic in it. It is not easy to believe that this thin carbon atoms layer can be so revolutionary. Graphene is the material of superlatives, as Nobel Prize Laureate Sir Konstantin Novoselov said in his key note speech: thinnest, strongest, stiffest, bendable and impermeable, having unique optical properties, highest electron mobility, record thermal conductivity and so on, the list of record properties is long.
Graphene-based materials can exploit those properties: in the future they may allow us to charge batteries extremely fast, illuminate a room with Graphene-based lighting or create flexible displays and touch-screens for mobile phones. Other possible applications are to filter water or to print circuits with conductive ink – perhaps even on T-shirts! Graphene and related materials are on track to play a role in the automotive, aerospace, photonics and electronics industry, medical devices and many other sectors. Indeed a study from The Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) has included it amongst the ten technologies that can change our life.
The STOA workshop
On The 2nd of June at the workshop held at the European Parliament organised by STOA with the collaboration of the Graphene FET Flagship, I got reassured that we are on the right track to make this change happen: we have allocated the appropriate resources to reach the target level of ambition, supported by the excellence of EU in science and innovative industry, and we have, above all, committed, enthusiastic and motivated people. Jerzy Buzek (MEP, Chair of ITRE) pointed out how much impact European research programmes such as ERC and FET can have on the research landscape, and how Flagships resulted in being the perfect instrument to allow large-scale partnerships, addressing long term challenges, mobilising and coordinating the research efforts at European and national level and playing the translational role to bring graphene from the laboratories to the factory.
The Graphene Flagship added value in coordinating and leveraging investment was recognised by all participants, as well as its continuous contribution in science developments. In fact, graphene is not alone! This is what Sir Novoselov explained to the audience. New possibilities emerge from building hetero-structures by stacking combinations of 2D materials on top of each other and construct libraries of crystals to provide specific electrical, thermal, physical or mechanical properties and functionalities. Industry will choose from a catalogue of atom-by-atom built materials to create innovative products and applications. If you want to listen from the direct voice of Novoselov, please watch his interview at EuroParl TV.
The changes brought by the Graphene Flagship are expected to be disruptive, not incremental improvements. The discussion highlighted the many challenges that need to be faced in order to take the lab advances into the market, such as large-scale production, toxicology, standardisation, nano-safety, involvement of the whole industrial value and supply chain, the role of SMEs, and bridging the gap between fundamental research and industrial production.
Heterogeneous issues came out when the panel discussed about success factors: the ability to lead excellence, a quicker take-up from industry, the creation of new graphene-based industry in Europe, the generation of jobs and new products. Other success factors could include the difference the Flagship is making in the market place; its capacity in attracting and training young researchers; its capability in bringing safe and sustainable solutions to some societal challenges.
I report here about other aspects discussed during the debate which illustrate the value, coherence and completeness of the actions, instruments and methodologies of the Graphene Flagship:
- Graphenea, an SME focused on producing exfoliated graphene and partner in the flagship, which highlighted the fact that the framework of the Graphene Flagship provides them credibility towards the big companies.
- Engaging in the industrial process while maintaining a strong link to science is essential to ensure quick response to requirements and provision of the latest output from research.
- Though, so far, there is no reason to assume graphene poses particular health or safety risks, the investigation on possible health, safety or environmental concerns is an integral part of the Graphene Flagship from the start.
- The Graphene Flagship offers a unique environment for training new researchers in the mentality of translating research results into new industrial developments; furthermore stimulating entrepreneurship by creating technology enabling spin-off companies.
If you missed it, you can find the full workshop in web streaming.
The exhibition: from graphite to the future of graphene
The exhibition showcased at the European Parliament in Brussels presented the history of graphene through a time-line, starting from the discovery of graphite (1555), introducing graphene’s applications and graphene-based prototypes and ending with the "future" potential of the new material to make a profound impact on our daily life in the future.
Young researchers were showing the production phase (exfoliation techniques), the “printing” ability of graphene based inks, and the results of it as thin touchscreens, sensors and membranes.
I thank MEP Paul Rübig (MEP, Chair of STOA and member of ITRE) for hosting such an interesting debate in the people’s house of the EU, all the speakers for their contributions to the conversations and the Graphene Flagship for accompanying the visitors in the wonderland of graphene experiments.
We all look forward to the Graphene Flagship continuing the basic research and involving more and more industrial players to ensure a quick uptake of innovative products for the benefit of the whole society and economy.
The Graphene week 2015 is coming soon in Manchester 22 – 26 June 2015, don’t forget to pencil (by the way, with graphene!) it in your calendar.