UK Invests $35 Million In Graphene Commercialization Research
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Government investments into certain private companies, sometimes derided as “picking winners and losers,” can be controversial, yet the U.K. government has stepped into the breach this week and announced that it will be investing over $35 million in an effort to commercialize graphene, a new ‘super-material’.
Invented by two scientists at the University of Manchester, Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim, graphene is an atom-thick, carbon-based material that could be utilized in everything from telecommunications to energy transmission technology. The two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their work in 2010.
The material’s capacity “potentially supports an unparalleled number of industrial and everyday applications, including in electronics, energy generation and telecommunications,” according to a government statement.
“It’s exactly what our commitment to science and a proactive industrial strategy is all about – and we’ve beaten off strong global competition,” said U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. “Now I am glad to announce investment that will help take it from the British laboratory to the British factory floor. This shows that even in tough times we are investing in science which is vital to helping the UK get ahead in the global race.”
An atom-thick sheet of graphene is comprised of carbon molecules arranged in a honeycomb like structure. Besides being extremely transparent, the material can conduct electricity a million times better than traditional copper wires. The material’s unique structure also makes it stronger and more pliable than other conductors.
An original investment of $80 million was set up in 2011 by the chancellor, with $61 million of that money used in February to establish the University of Manchester as a global center for graphene research. This week’s announcement allocates the remainder of the initial commitment, along with an additional $16 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a U.K. government agency that funds engineering and technical research and training. Private companies, including Airbus, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Dyson and Philips Research, have pledged to commit $16 million to the graphene effort.
“We will use the funding to build on first-class research that crosses several college departments to vastly improve current technologies such as catalysis, supercapacitors, membranes, multifunctional polymer and ceramic composites and a whole range of applications at microwave and optical frequencies,” Neil Alford, deputy principal for research in Imperial College London‘s faculty of engineering, told The Guardian.
“We will work on improving the mechanical properties of composite materials, and addressing the electrical properties of devices, to develop exceptionally sensitive sensors for a range of applications in environmental monitoring and the medical sciences,” he said.
The investment funds will be divided among several prominent U.K. research facilities. Cambridge University will receive more than $16 million for work on advanced flexible and light-based electronics. Imperial College London is set to receive about $7.3 million to research the use of graphene in aircraft components – focusing on making them tougher and more lightning-resistant.
Other facilities scheduled to receive funding are Durham University, the University of Manchester, the University of Exeter and Royal Holloway.