As global interest in
graphene continues to snowballat an astounding
rate, research into commercialising carbon sciences
vaunted miracle material is an intensely competitive
|Manchester's National Graphene
just signed a £5m-deal with US-headquartered
Bluestone Global Tech to develop commercial
applications for graphene (image:
The world of high-tech
industry teaches us that commercial operators are usually
reluctant to share the spoils of technical innovation; but
graphene development, it seems, is an arena determined to
benefit from some intellectual crowd sourcing.
As the material edges
ever closer to achieving its widely-discussed commercial
potential, the future of the science looks likely to be shaped
by strategic, collaborative ventures, rather than solo
This is particularly
fitting, since the very discovery of graphene was itself a
Back in 2004, Russian
émigré scientists Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov
pooled their knowledge and expertise to isolate the atomic
layer of carbon from flakes of
graphite, a feat which earned them equal shares in the
Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010.
And the collaborative
legacy looks set to continue, as more and more academic
institutions and commercial outfits join forces in the search
to turn nano-carbon into into mega-cash.
Bluestone teams up with
This week, one of the
worlds largest graphene manufacturers, US-headquartered
Bluestone Global Tech, announced that it had agreed a £5m
($7.9m*) research partnership with the UKs University of
Manchester, where graphene was first discovered by Geim and
Novoselov almost a decade ago.
The partnership will
allow Bluestone to draw on the expertise of Manchesters
100+ graphene and 2D material specialists to produce the next
generation of graphene applications, including advanced
displays, flexible electronics, energy storage materials and
The deal marks the
first strategic partnership for the UKs National Graphene
Institute (NGI), a £61m-centre due for completion early
next year, and will see Bluestone open a pre-production
facility to work with a handful of consumer companies, before
setting up a pilot plant in Manchester.
building a bridge across a river, Nathan Hill, business
development and strategy director for Manchesters NGI
On one side, you
have scientists working on how to produce the material in large
volumes, and on the other side you have those working on
applications. Here at Manchester, we are building the bridge
from both sides, Hill said.
key to the future development of the science and its successful
transition to commercial products, and Manchester is always
open to proposals from prospective partners, he
According to Hill,
part of the reason for pursuing partnerships in this field is
that graphene is fundamentally intertwined with the science
behind it, and building up a knowledge economy to
support the materials development is crucial.
can divorce their production from the science that created
them, but with graphene I think we are going to see the
knowledge driving the material for at least the next 20
years, he said.
Grafoid and ProScan target
Partnerships in the
sector are not limited to business-academic tie-ups, with
purely commercial graphene joint ventures (JVs) also cropping
up around the world.
In Canada, graphene
technology company, Grafoid Inc., last week
revealed that it has set up a JV company with biomedical
research firm, ProScan RX Pharma Inc., to develop
graphene-based treatments for cancer.
The new venture,
called Calevia Inc., will work on using Grafoids patented
graphene product, MesoGraf, to engineer
targeted photothermal therapy that eradicates tumours while
avoiding some of the side effects and limitations associated
with existing cancer therapies.
Calevia sets a
clear example to the world how graphene technologies serve
humanity, said Gary Economo, Grafoids
ProScans Dr Claude Vezeau, co-founder and CEO of Calevia,
forging a partnership with a graphene-focused technology firm
could lead to a redefinition of cancer treatment.
photothermal ablation of prostate and, subsequently, other
solid cancers, bridges the gap between conventional therapies
and todays nanotechnology revolution, he
The collaboration with
ProScan is Grafoids first foray into the medical
industry, having previously signed agreements with a handful of
universities and energy companies for research into
graphene-based renewable energy applications.
Grafoid is also in a
JV with junior graphite miner, Focus Graphite Inc., to
develop production methods based on exfoliated
natural graphite a business model that has been
emulated in the mining industry by companies including fellow
Canadian, Lomiko Metals Inc., and UK-listed Nordic Graphite
A growing Chinese graphene
Western partnerships form only part of the globally burgeoning
graphene picture, with huge sums and intellectual resources
being ploughed into the industry in Asia.
July saw the
establishment of the China Graphene Industry Technology
Innovation Strategic Alliance in Beijing, a
government-sponsored body tasked with developing graphene
science as part of nano-technology initiative outlined in the
countrys 12th Five Year Plan.
companies are also earmarking significant chunks of funding for
graphene development. Zhongtai Chemical Co. Ltd, a Shenzhen
Stock Exchange-listed chemical manufacturer, recently announced
plans to invest Chinese renminbi (Rmb) 14.1m ($2.3m) in a
graphene start-up company, Xiamen Knano Graphene
Resource firm Shenyang
Yinji Development Company also revealed in August that it has
signed two cooperation agreements for investment in new
graphite new materials with the
flake graphiteminer, Heilongjiang Aoyu Graphite
The wild west of intellectual
Something of an
antidote to collaboration in the graphene sector has been the
rapid encroachment of intellectual property rights and
suspected industrial espionageover
Earlier this year,
research by the UK-based consultancy, CambridgeIP, revealed a
surgein the number of
patents filed and published across the world, particularly in
Asia and the US.
report showed China leading the field with 2,204 published
patents as of 1 February 2013, followed by the US with 1,754
and South Koreawith
Hill believes that while securing graphene patents are
important, having a small number of quality patentsrather
than a large volume of IP rights will be the key
differentiators that mark out future leaders in the
something of a wild west of IP out there, with some
of larger companies setting out to take every patent
going, he told IM.
This is not to
underplay the importance of owning property rights, but it will
be the best quality research that will make the
difference, he said.
*Conversions made September