Researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre headquartered at Trinity College Dublin have, for the first time, developed a new method of producing industrial quantities of high quality graphene. Described as a wonder material, graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of carbon. It is extremely light and stronger than steel, yet incredibly flexible and extremely electrically conductive.
The discovery will change the way many consumer and industrial products are manufactured. The materials will have a multitude of potential applications including advanced food packaging; high strength plastics; foldable touch screens for mobile phones and laptops; super-protective coatings for wind turbines and ships; faster broadband and batteries with dramatically higher capacity than anything available today.
Thomas Swan Ltd has worked with the AMBER research team for two years and has signed a license agreement to scale up production and make the high quality graphene available to industry globally. The company has already announced two new products as a result of the research discovery (Elicarb®Graphene Powder and Elicarb® Graphene Dispersion).
Until now, researchers have been unable to produce graphene of high quality in large enough quantities. The subject of on-going international research, the research undertaken by AMBER is the first to perfect a large-scale production of pristine graphene materials and has been highlighted by the highly prestigious Nature Materials publication as a global breakthrough. Professor Coleman and his team used a simple method for transforming flakes of graphite into defect-free graphene using commercially available tools, such as high-shear mixers. They demonstrated that not only could graphene-containing liquids be produced in standard lab-scale quantities of a few 100 millilitres, but the process could be scaled up to produce 100s of litres and beyond.
Commenting on the development, Prof Jonathan Coleman, Professor of Chemical Physics at Trinity College and AMBER commented: “This shows how industry and academic collaboration can lead to research of the highest calibre, with real commercial applications. This paper combines basic and applied research and contains elements of physics, chemistry, materials science and chemical engineering. It brings together academic expertise with the wealth of experience provided by Dr Keith Paton, Thomas Swan’s researcher who is working with us here on-site in AMBER. Graphene has been identified as a life changing material and to be involved at this stage of development is a wonderful achievement”.
Harry Swan, Managing Director, Thomas Swan, added, “It was scientific excellence that first attracted us to working with Prof. Coleman and we have developed an excellent working relationship with both him and the AMBER research team. We have also been impressed by the speed at which the project progressed from initial discussions in 2011 through to product launch in early 2014. This research and licence offers us the opportunity to produce and deliver a truly revolutionary material to many industries globally”.
Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock, TD commented;“Professor Coleman’s discovery shows that Ireland has won the worldwide race on the production of this ‘miracle material’. This is something that USA, China, Australia, UK, Germany and other leading nations have all been striving for and have not yet achieved. This announcement shows how the Irish Government’s strategy of focusing investment in science with impact, as well as encouraging industry and academic collaboration, is working.”
Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Irish Government added; “This is a very significant global achievement for Prof Coleman and AMBER. The research and licence agreement with Thomas Swan is an example of the real industry partnerships which SFI is establishing and developing. This research discovery opens the door for industry worldwide to bring their graphene ideas to commercial reality and is an example of the innovative research being conducted by the internationally renowned SFI Research centres.”
Thomas Swan Ltd, who has partnered with the AMBER research team for two years have to date invested €750,000 in the research programme and plan a further collaboration with AMBER over the next 12 months with joint funding being provided by Science Foundation Ireland.
The Nature publication is available at http://www.nature.com/nmat/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nmat3944.html.
Source: Trinity College Dublin