While the UK may no longer be the first country
that springs to mind when thinking about technology innovation,
its foothold in the graphene development industry is a sure
sign that the tide is now turning.
This change has been documented in the Global
Innovation Index, which consists of a ranking of world
economies’ innovation capabilities and
The index ranked the UK in 14th place
back in 2010, but also highlights a steady climb up to
2nd place in 2014, with Switzerland taking the top
spot. The UK was ranked in 10th place in 2011,
5th place in 2012 and 3rd place in
UK Chancellor, George Osborne, has set his sights
on the number one spot in the Global Innovation Index and has
said that the investment the government is delivering in
science will ensure that new scientific talent is nurtured and
that innovation is promoted.
NGI’s Baker told IM
that by creating the supply chain necessary for graphene
material, products and applications, the UoM has the potential
to create a "Graphene City" type opportunity which has
"potential to strengthen the UK’s position in the
Global Innovation Index."
The Graphene Engineering
Innovation Centre will be designed to complement the
Courtesy of the University of
As a result of this plan, a second building is being
developed as part of Graphene City, which the UoM says will be
critical in the development of commercial applications and in
maintaining the UK’s leading position in graphene
and 2D materials.
Designed to complement the NGI, work on creating
a £60m Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre, or GEIC,
is now underway.
"[The GEIC] will further support the
UK’s leadership position in the graphene and 2D
materials research and development by the acceleration and
development of graphene and 2D material applications," Baker
"It will provide a world class centre and
capability for process engineering and scale-up of graphene and
related 2D materials and applications in composites, energy,
membranes, electronic and solution formulations and coatings,"
The GEIC will be 8,000m2 and is
planned to open at the end of 2017.
Funding for the project will come from Innovate
UK (£5m), the Higher Education Funding Council for
England’s UK Research Partnership Investment Fund
(£15m), and from Masdar, the Abu Dhabi-based renewable
energy company owned by Mubadala (£30m). Additional
funding will be provided by other research funds and
The UoM and Masdar Institute, the
research-intensive university that is a key pillar of the
Masdar Initiative, have also begun identifying joint graphene
application research and fellowship programmes, which will
focus on industrial applications for graphene across a range of
"We are working closely with our partners on the
GEIC and have set up an industry advisory panel which is
supporting the design and potential operating model of the GEIC
in 2017," Baker told IM.
"We currently have more than 20 industry partners
who are supporting this and have potential to join the GEIC
once opened," he added.
The GEIC facility will stimulate the commercial
redevelopment of the UoM’s North Campus, creating
a cornerstone for Graphene City and a wider advanced materials
campus. The site is located just yards from Manchester stopping
point of HS2, the UK’s next proposed high speed
rail project, at Manchester Piccadilly Station and the further
proposed HS3 link across the north, which was recently
announced by the UK’s Chancellor.
Once constructed, the GEIC
will join the NGI
(pictured) as part of the University of
Courtesy of the University of
Finding that "killer" application
The developments taking place at the UoM are a
clear sign that graphene, which was once considered a material
that would only be seen within the confines of a scientific
laboratory, is moving fast towards commercial realisation.
Indeed, over the past two years graphene
conferences and publications have concentrated on the many
potential applications for this "wonder material" across a
range of markets and products.
"The pace of development is very fast and already
you are seeing some simple graphene-enhanced products like
tennis rackets, lubricants and mobile phones," Baker told
IM. He added that one of the
university’s partners is close to launching a
graphene-enhanced LED light bulb and that we are also starting
to see graphene appear in composites and inks.
However, Baker explained that some of the bigger
applications are still a number of years away and it is
"difficult to predict the 'killer’
"You are seeing that those companies who are
starting to engage with the NGI and the UoM are finding novel
new properties or potential applications for graphene, which
are much closer to market," Baker said.
"Key challenges still exist however in achieving
scale-up and producing affordable, repeatable applications,
which is essential if commercialisation will be
*Conversion made March 2015