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New graphene service to kick-start UK’s ‘miracle material’ industry


A new service has been launched by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at the University of Manchester, which will help the UK to cash in on the ‘wonder material’, graphene, by providing the ‘missing link’ for industrialisation of the material.

Commercially, graphene comes in several forms, such as flakes in a powder or liquid, each with variation in their properties, yield, and reproducibility of the product. Material standardisation is crucial to industry uptake but, as with all new technologies, international standards for graphene are in their infancy. As such, manufacturers are unable to verify that the graphene that they are working with has the desired properties. In fact, as it is unregulated, companies cannot even be sure what material they are buying, a point recently highlighted by the FCA in a warning for investors.

The new graphene characterisation service, led by the organisations leading the standard for graphene, will allow companies to understand the properties of the material they are working with in greater detail. By providing this service, NPL and NGI hope to accelerate the industrialisation of graphene in the UK – forging the missing link between graphene research and development, and its application in next generation products.

If the UK fails to put the building blocks in place for industrialisation of graphene, it could risk missing out on the associated economic boom.

Hailed as a ‘wonder material’, graphene is set to improve the quality of life for many across the globe. Its potential applications include inexpensive water purification systems; greener, more efficient cars and planes; flexible phones and solar cells, and even biomedical applications such as wound healing and cancer treatments. Even Internet of Things technologies are set to benefit from wider graphene use as a result of more effective sensors. In fact, the material is so promising that we don’t even know all of its applications yet – much like when GPS, a technology that is now indispensable to modern life, was developed.

Graphene was first isolated in the UK by researchers at the University of Manchester, where the NGI is based. Early adopters of graphene technology are already seeing benefits, but in order to fulfil its massive potential, it needs to be industrialised – which will see the quality and reproducibility of the material on offer increase, due to standardisation, and the price of graphene drop, due to economies of scale. Only by doing this can we open the door for its wider use and pave the way to the creation of new graphene-inspired applications.

Combining NPL’s expertise in test and verification of materials and the NGI’s research and development excellence will help to realise this. NPL led the development of the first graphene ISO standard, on graphene terminology, and in collaboration with the NGI, produced the NPL Good Practice Guide on the characterisation of graphene. This unrivalled expertise underpins the new characterisation service, offering NPL’s robust measurements for the properties of commercially-supplied graphene, and comment from the NGI on the material properties and its suitability for selected application(s).

By providing reliable, accurate and consistent measurement and assessment of graphene, and giving industry the information it needs to scale up the production and application of the material, this initiative will help to ensure the UK remains a world-leader in the graphene industry. It will also help to foster graphene innovation hubs across the UK by supporting agile, forward-thinking companies like those seen in Silicon Valley, with a similarly stimulating effect on the economy.

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