2D materials like graphene are well on their way to revolutionising many aspects of our lives. With new research being released every day, it is only a matter of time before they are being used across a variety of product ranges and industries. To delve further into 2D material research and accelerate commercialisation, The University of Manchester will be opening a new institute in October 2018. The GEIC (Graphene Engineering Innovation Center) will house further 2D material developments and research for the University.
The Graphene Engineering Innovation Center in Manchester (Image credit: The University of Manchester)
Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, was originally not considered possible to exist or be stable enough to isolate as a two-dimensional material. However, once researchers at The University of Manchester succeeded in isolating it in 2004, they found that it had an abundance of beneficial properties. Not only is it light-weight, but it is also fantastically strong and very flexible.
Despite graphene being the most widely known, it is thought that there could actually be up to 600 different 2D materials. These all have been found to have their own valuable characteristics: hexagonal boron nitride for example, can be used in electronics. Graphene on the other hand, won’t necessarily be a replacement for silicon but could be used in electronics as a coating or a paste. Over 300 researchers are currently working on these 2D materials at The University and there are hopes to develop and increase these isolations in the near future.
We use graphene as the ‘poster child’. That’s where it started and that’s where the interest is… However, there are also other 2D materials that might be better or more complementary depending on the required application.”
James Baker, CEO – Graphene@Manchester
Using bottom-up methods (creating materials by manipulating or combining others), researchers are now examining combinations of different two-dimensional materials. In 2013, a paper was published that examined the effects of combining 2D materials to produce a photovoltaic device. By selecting 2D materials with the most complementary properties and mixing them together layer by layer, the microscopic device that was produced led to even more developments in creating new multifunctional materials.
According to James Baker, the world-renowned National Graphene Institute (found on The University of Manchester Oxford Road Campus) specifically “brings together research from across the University”. This multidisciplinary approach allows research to develop from ideas, to something that can actually be produced. The GEIC hopes to follow in this example, bringing in manufacturing, engineering and industrial partners, as well as exploring more commercial skills and activities.”
Both institutes use the TRL (Technology Readiness Level) scale to measure their research, with 1 representing blue-sky research and four/five being lab-based demos. The GEIC will be looking at TRL levels 3 and above (pilot products upwards). Some of the challenges that the Institute will face is the idea that research and pilot products need to be ‘scaled up’, so that the results can be made repeatedly and in quantity.
The NGI is a crucial part of Manchester and it is believed that upon the completion of the GEIC, it’s importance will only be accelerated. With the ability to speed up and expand on 2D material developments, the hope is that the market place will broaden and products will begin hitting the shelves in the next few years, with 2D materials being the main component. From tires and training shoes, to aerospace, it is thought that a vast array of items could improve with the addition of two-dimensional materials.
Situated near Manchester Piccadilly on the old UMIST campus, the £60 million building is currently still under construction and will be handed over to the University in June.