Graphene Scientists, Industrialists and Investors Connecting at the NGI
If you have a moment when you arrive in the reception of the National Graphene Institute (NGI) in Manchester, look at the wall on your left. Yesterday I did this and saw a dark grey surface, lustrous in the morning light. Look closer and you’ll see a pattern of hexagons engraved on its surface. This tells you that the wall is made of graphite, the primary source of graphene, the founding material for the NGI.
No time to ponder further, I’m ushered towards the elevator and step out into the excited buzz that is the graphene connect showcase event, 2017.
The first thing I notice is a supercar, rather hard to miss in the livery of the Isle of Man Police (the British sense of fun). The car is here because much of the carbon fibre composite it contains is enhanced with graphene from Haydale, one of the emerging companies commercialising graphene composites.
Other things catch my eye. A company called Perpetuus is making graphene nanoplatelets as powders and pastes in tonne quantities. I talked with their research scientists rather than sales people. I saw a racing bicycle made with graphene-enhanced composites in its frame and wheels with graphene enhanced rubber in its tyres.
They also showed me graphene paint. “OK what does it do?” I asked. In reply they showed me a piece of ordinary glass coated on the back with graphene paint. They connected power cables to each end of the sheet and immediately I felt the heat radiate from the panel. Paint-on radiators, now that’s an interesting idea for architects to play with.
Other 2D materials on show…
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Tucked away in a quiet corner on the Thomas Swan stand I saw some white powders and white plastics. Nothing remarkable there you might think except that this is the first time I have seen hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) nanoplatelets on show in commercial quantities.
Graphene is just one of a family of new 2D materials of which hBN is another. It is flat like graphene but has different properties and scientists are getting very excited about combinations of these materials because they can be layered like a club sandwich to create entirely new materials.
You will be hearing about 2D-heteromaterials in the future. At the moment they are where graphene was ten years ago, so still very much in the lab. When I get time I’ll write about these for you dear reader.
So, lots to take in but what are the impressions of the day?
I am impressed, but not in a way you might think. Things are changing fast, faster than company websites are being updated. I’m noticing a nascent industry emerging built on graphene nanoplatelets.
The graphene conversation has changed over the past two years:
The scientists are speaking less about what graphene is and more about what it can do.
The industrialists are collaborating to make graphene-enhanced products that have saleable benefits.
The smarter investors are returning and seeking out informed people who can translate graphene speak to help them identify the real opportunities emerging from the hype.
I’m invited to stay on afterwards, so many conversations to have with so many people. Eventually the midsummer sun is going down and it is time to leave. I pass the supercar and take its photograph and ponder a minor mystery. I’m three-floors up in this building, how on earth did they get the car in here…?
I pause on my way out to look up at the graphite wall again. “Hello” says a voice behind me and I walk out of the building having yet another irresistible conversation, this time with a very clever engineer about the latest graphene enhanced drone he has built for the NGI. To find out about that dear reader you will have to wait for another column entry. This day has been relentless and fascinating. I have so much to tell you, but only so much time to write…
Adrian Nixon began his career as a scientist and is a Chartered Chemist and Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry. As a scientist and ... <Read more about Adrian Nixon>