Graphene Flagged As EU Research Priority

Chemistry, graphene © Oleksiy Mark Shutterstock 2012

The European Commission has chosen graphene as a research priority and pledged a £864m research grant

Europe has recognised the importance of so-called “wonder material” graphene and pledged a substantial investment in the technology for research purposes.

The decision came after the EU made graphene one of the first names on the list of “Future Emerging Technology (FET)” flagship projects.

Graphene applications

The 10-year European mission is to “take graphene and related layered materials from academic laboratories to society, revolutionise multiple industries and create economic growth and new jobs in Europe”.

GrapheneDeveloped by researchers at the University of Manchester, the excitement surrounding graphene is due to its potential uses. Graphene is made from a single layer of carbon atoms and is extremely strong and conductive.

A variety of potential applications have been developed for graphene and it is expected by some to replace silicon as the primary material in electronic devices. Previous graphene research has focused on graphene transistors, self-cooling materials and even Internet acceleration.

The EU believes its key applications could include fast electronic and optical devices, flexible electronics, functional lightweight components and advanced batteries. It cites possible real-world examples of new products enabled by graphene technologies such as electronic paper and bendable personal communication devices, and lighter, more energy-efficient airplanes.

The objectives of the Europe project, which will be worth a total of €1 billion (£864m), is to “coordinate 126 academic and industrial research groups in 17 European countries with an initial 30-month-budget of €54 million (£47m). The consortium will be extended with another 20-30 groups through an open call, issued soon after the start of the initiative, which will further strengthen the engineering aspects of the flagship.”

“Although the flagship is extremely extensive, it cannot cover all areas. For example, we don’t intend to compete with Korea on graphene screens,” said Professor Jari Kinaret at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, Flagship Director. “Graphene production, however, is obviously central to our project.”

Nokia Involvement

During the 30 month ramp-up phase, the Graphene Flagship project will focus on the area of communications, concentrating on ICT and on the physical transport sector, and supporting applications in the fields of energy technology and sensors.

Mobile phone giant Nokia revealed it is one of the industry partners of the European Graphene FET project.

“Nokia is proud to be involved with this project, and we have deep roots in the field – we first started working with graphene already in 2006,” explained Nokia’s CTO Henry Tirri in a statement. “Since then, we have come to identify multiple areas where this material can be applied in modern computing environments. We’ve done some very promising work so far, but I believe the greatest innovations have yet to be discovered.

“Graphene happens to be an area where we, in Europe, have all the important players in the value chain who are ready to use it in applications. From that perspective, this is a very efficient and promising way of doing research investments for Europe.”

British drive

The British government has also thrown its weight behind the material. It first invested £50m into the technology back in October 2011, but then last December invested an extra £21.5 million for some of the leading universities in the UK, in order to develop commercial uses for graphene.

The British investment came amid fears that the UK may be struggling to keep up in the race to exploit graphene, as patent publications surge in the US and particularly in Asia.

However the UK seems to be responding quickly, and last week the university of Cambridge announced it would establish a Graphene Research Centre in the ‘Silicon Fen’ area, in order to streamline manufacturing of the useful material and help turn it into flexible, wearable and transparent electronics.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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