CRANN, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded nanoscience institute based at Trinity College Dublin, is set to engage in a €750,000 research partnership focused on graphene production with Thomas Swan & Co, the UK manufacturer of performance and speciality chemicals.
The collaboration between CRANN and Thomas Swan will focus on the industrial scale-up of graphene production.
Graphene itself consists of a sheet of carbon atoms, just one atom thick or about one hundred-thousandth the width of one human hair. Graphene was the focus of the Nobel Prize in physics in 2010, when Prof Andre Geim and Prof Konstantin Novoselov at The University of Manchester won the prize for their experiments centred on two-dimensional material graphene. It was back in 2004 when the two scientists discovered graphene at the university.
Often termed a ‘wonder material’, graphene has unique properties and is one of the strongest and most conductive materials currently known. Apparently, it is around 200 times stronger than steel.
CRANN said there is currently no method to produce high-quality pure graphene on an industrial scale, so the collaboration with Thomas Swan will be addressing this problem.
Resembling chicken wire, graphene is a sheet of carbon atoms bound together with double electron bonds. Atoms in graphene are arranged in a honeycomb-style lattice pattern. Prof Andre Geim and Prof Konstantin Novoselov from The University of Manchester discovered graphene in 2004. They won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010 for their pioneering work. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Because of its strong electrical conductivity, potential applications for graphene include next-generation electronic devices, mechanically strengthened plastics and new thermoelectric materials.
Prof Jonathan Coleman is leading CRANN’s research in the field of graphene production. Last year, he was named as SFI Researcher of the Year. Coleman was also recognised as one of the top 100 material scientists of the last decade – the only Irish representative on the list.
Thomas Swan, in addition to funding the research programme, will place an engineer to work with Coleman’s team for two years.
Harry Swan, managing director, Thomas Swan, spoke about how graphene is a “fascinating material”. He said the aim of the collaboration would be to provide a “stable and consistent source of true graphene” to academia and industry as downstream research develops future commercial applications.
The two entities are anticipating initial lab samples within the next few months. Swan said they would also be inviting interested parties to assess the graphene material as soon as it is available.
Graphene is also the focus of one of six of the EU’s FET flagship pilot research projects, two of which will be chosen to receive funding of €1bn for 10 years from the EU Commission.