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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > NanotechnologyKTN > NanoKTN: UK Graphene Industrial Consultation Workshops: General Findings

Fiona Brewer

During March this year, the NanoKTN hosted and led two industrial consultation workshops to discuss the commercialisation potential of graphene, a new material which has been the subject of intense academic study. One workshop addressed electrical and electronic (e.g. ‘2-D materials') applications, and the other, structural and bulk applications, a demarcation which highlighted that markets are essentially very different, and the quantities of material and supply chains involved, also very different.

May 29th, 2013

NanoKTN: UK Graphene Industrial Consultation Workshops: General Findings

The first graphene workshop on structural and bulk applications was organised in conjunction with the Chemistry Innovation and Materials KTNs on 6th March 2013 in Manchester, followed by the electrical and electronic applications workshop held on 14th March 2013 in London, in partnership with the ESP and Materials KTNs.

The consultation workshops were held to obtain industry opinion on the commercial future of graphene, to gain an understanding for the size and potential commercial applications of graphene in these spaces, and to also discuss how long it will take to achieve the commercialisation of these potential applications. Furthermore, the workshops attempted to gain an understanding of what the barriers to commercialisation are most likely to be, and to make some suggestions about how these barriers can be surmounted or circumnavigated.

General findings from the electrical and electronic applications workshop confirmed that graphene is a significant material and enabling technology for future UK wealth creation in manufacture. Industrial feedback at the event suggested that electronic graphene will address a different market and supply chain when compared to that of ‘bulk' graphene. Bulk graphene manufacture and use has a wide range of potential high value applications, whereas ‘2-D materials' (i.e. not just graphene) will be a significant future area for electronics applications.

The UK has a strong legacy in the development of manufacturing plant and metrology and characterisation systems for the semiconductor industry. This should be specifically recognised and nurtured for the emerging graphene market. There are many SMEs in the UK (and in the EU) that provide deposition and measurement equipment and materials to the semiconductor industry.

The development, equipment manufacturing and supply chain in the UK for graphene-enabled applications is starting to thrive, especially the process/deposition equipment manufacturers. But the key challenge for electronics applications is the urgent need for good quality material to be produced of a consistent and repeatable quality which can be up-scaled in terms of volume, while maintaining reproducibly low electrical resistance (Ohms per square).

A range of timescales for application commercialisation were presented for time to market - with short term goals indicated at between 2-5 years, whereas longer term goals looked at 15 years. Discussions confirmed that the UK needs to target applications that can be readily taken up by UK industry and UK-based companies, for economic return-on-investment to the country within the next five years or so.

Dissemination of information was also seen to be key to the rapid adoption of best practice and new knowledge, with funding holders actively tasked to disseminate early stage results to accelerate the programmes.

There is also a need to identify industrial champions at an early stage who have the ability to inspire the community generally. In particular, industry partners should be encouraged, financially and otherwise, to collaborate, partner or guide early stage feasibility studies normally confined to a single entity.

The graphene for bulk and structural applications workshop demonstrated that the UK has some significant strengths upon which to build including: impressive facilities such as the National Graphene Institute and Catapults, an established academic base, production of commercial bulk graphene already in progress, and a significant end-user customer base covering diverse industries such as aerospace, energy, food and environment.

Key UK weaknesses in ‘bulk' graphene applications included the lower level of investment compared to other countries, and the need for improved coordination and networking. Key opportunities in ‘bulk' graphene however, include formulation and processing expertise as well as equipment and manufacture of added-value products. Key threats were identified as patent blocking and over-emphasis on funding of academic study rather than process and product development.

Key recommendations in the ‘bulk' graphene area included: a need to integrate academic with industrial studies; funding of scale-up demonstrator programmes, materials characterisation and measurement; and mechanisms to develop supply chains.

Dr Alec Reader, Director at the NanoKTN comments, "The UK is recognised as having a unique position in the graphene sector and it is essential that any policies seek to maintain UK leadership position in the materials research. It is imperative that the innovation supply chain in graphene technologies be strengthened to provide a ready source of new products and services for investors and exploitation industries."

"However, converting an emerging technology such as graphene into commercial benefit is not a trivial task, with early development work being costly and an initial low pay-back until the technology takes off. The NanoKTN plays a vital role working within emerging technology sectors to remove barriers to growth and help stimulate the investment needed to enhance success in these exciting technology areas. We will be working closely with partners in industry, academia and government to commercialise graphene and gain competitive advantage for UK companies and create wealth and jobs."

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