The world of graphene through James Baker’s eyes – Part Two: The Graphene City Strategy
Strategy is my day job, so it was natural that James and I started talking about the bigger picture when we met at the National Graphene Institute (NGI) in Manchester, UK. That strategic view is a fundamental shift in the demand for graphene from a technology push to a commercial pull. In practise this means the graphene hype is over. The market dynamic is changing to one where industry understands the capabilities of commercially available graphene and is starting to use this new wonder material as an additive to make enhanced new products.
So, success is guaranteed then… Well not quite.
New products such as graphene and other 2D materials are great in the laboratory but they can often fail to make the transition from idea to industry and become world-changing products because of a gap in investment between research and production. In the USA the 2012 Report to the President on Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced manufacturing called this gap the ‘valley of death’
Graphene City is the strategic vision designed to overcome the valley of death problem for graphene and 2D materials. This is what James Baker and his colleagues are implementing with the University of Manchester, UK.
The invisible part of the strategy: Collaboration
James and his team have a systems view of the world. To get graphene and other 2D materials in to every day use needs more than just the NGI.
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Everyone has their part to play in taking 2D materials from ideas to industry. The University of Manchester concentrates on Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 1 and 2 focussing on ideas and developing the concepts.
The NGI overlaps with TRLs 1 to 4 and develops the experimental proof of concept and validating processes in the laboratory.
The new GEIC bridges the investment gap focussing on TRLs 4 to 6 coordinating with the NGI and validating processes and process capability on production equipment.
TRLs 6 to 9 are the focus of industrial partners who will interface with the GEIC and develop the capability to marshal the capability resources to manufacture at scale, developing supply chains and marketing the advanced products that drive the return on investment for which they are configured.
The visible part of the strategy: The buildings
The £61m National Graphene Institute (NGI) is impressive, but as we have seen, James and his colleagues have realised it is not enough. So they are investing a further £60m to build a new centre in Manchester. This will open in 2018 and is called the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC, pronounced as ‘geek’)
The NGI and GEIC are the most visible part of the ambitious graphene city strategic vision by the University of Manchester. This aims to create a critical mass of scientists, manufacturers, engineers, innovators and industrialists in the city.
Building these shiny new world-class facilities is already attracting and developing a new world-class labour market highly skilled in 2D materials. This means Manchester has the cluster of capability that can take ideas from the laboratory to the wheels of industry.
I came away from meeting James with an awareness of the sense of purpose such a coherent vision creates. This is an exciting place to work and it is only just getting started. Expect to hear more about Graphene City in the future.
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>