The UK has fallen behind its European neighbours
in the development of new technology innovations. In fact, a
report penned by technology entrepreneur Hermann Hauser in late
2014 said that the UK is still "playing catch up" with other
According to Hauser, other areas of the world,
such as Germany, have more established support for spin-outs
and these schemes are better funded.
It might come as a surprise to some, then, that
one of the UK’s largest cities is leading the way
in the research and development (R&D) of one of the most
talked-about discoveries of the 21st Century.
Graphene, the thinnest, lightest, strongest,
two-dimensional material known to humankind, was first isolated
by The University of Manchester (UoM) in 2004. Since then, a
tumultuous amount of interest has snowballed behind this
The reason nanotechnology researchers are so
excited is that graphene opens up a whole new class of
materials with unique electronic, optical and mechanical
Today, 11 years since UoM researchers first
proved the existence of graphene, a total of £121m
($179m*) has been invested in creating what the university
hopes will become a "Graphene City".
The National Graphene
Construction of the first building in Graphene
City began in June 2013 when BAM Construction broke ground on
what would become the National Graphene Institute (NGI), a hub
of graphene R&D.
To date, the NGI has received £61m in
investment, with £38m in funding from the UK government
via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and
£23m from the European Regional Development Fund.
The building which houses the institute, and is
set to open in early 2015, will see university scientists and
commercial partners working side-by-side on future applications
"[The NGI] will support the development of
applications and business opportunities through partnership
with industry, the commercialisation of intellectual property
and the provision of highly skilled people with both scientific
and entrepreneurial skills," James Baker, the
NGI’s business director told
Building the £61m
National Graphene Institute was "no easy task".
Courtesy of the University of
With a total area of 7,825m2,
including 1,500m2 of cleanrooms as well as
laboratory and office space, the NGI will undertake
collaborative research into graphene and related 2D materials
in partnership with industry.
According to BAM Construction, actually
constructing this space was "no easy task", as there were
several unique specifications to bear in mind.
Since the NGI will house scientists working on
highly-sensitive experiments, one important consideration was
minimising vibration, which could affect test results. BAM
overcame this issue by designing and constructing two
structurally independent frames under one roof.
"The structure is not overdesigned but it needs
the mass to achieve the vibration criteria," explained
BAM’s construction manager, Tony Grindrod. "The
vibration control has pushed the structural design towards a
heavy concrete frame".
Inside the NGI, two high technical specification
cleanrooms have been fitted according to International
Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) standards 5 and 6. These
are located on separate floors.
A "clean lift" linking these two cleanroom areas
has been fitted with an integrated fan filter to avoid
contamination and to remove the need for researchers to de-gown
between the two spaces.
For gas, specialist chemical supplies and
standard electrics and ventilation, which are all required in
the research rooms, "the scale and sophistication of the
institute’s mechanical and electrical systems
wouldn’t have been possible without a
forensically-detailed BIM model," Grindrod said.
"It has been an indispensable resource in
securing speed, efficiency and early clash detection within
mechanical and electrical apparatus".
While building the NGI has taken two years to
complete, graphene developments in preparation for its opening
have been multifarious.
Baker explained that the UoM currently has more
than 35 industrial partnerships working on graphene projects
"This has grown significantly over previous
months and is expected to double over the next 12 months and
following the opening of the NGI," he told
In mid-November 2014, the UoM and the National
Physical Laboratory signed a memorandum of understanding to
help with the commercialisation of graphene, an issue that has
been a dominant theme at graphene conferences and events over
the past two years.
The agreement will see the two organisations
working together on the development of graphene metrology,
characterisation and standards vital to industry uptake, with a
view to establishing a Joint Centre of Excellence.
In December 2014, Morgan Advanced Materials and
2D-Tech agreed long-term research collaborations with the NGI,
joining more than 35 partners already working on graphene
research and commercialisation projects with the UoM.
Earlier in that same year, Morgan Advanced
Materials announced a separate joint development agreement with
the UoM, aimed at scaling up a new process for manufacturing