Who is leading the race to commercialize Graphene? - 05/13/13
Graphene is the thinnest material man has ever discovered. In fact its depth is so narrow that it’s regarded as a 2D object. The honeycomb structure is only one atom thick (making it a Nanomaterial) and composed purely of Carbon, making it something of a wonder material.
In considering the commercial applications of Graphene let’s take a look at the facts; Graphene is not only reported to be up to 100 times stronger than steel but is also said to be more conductive than copper and more flexible than rubber, meaning the range and possibilities for application are vast.
Since its discovery, scientists and entrepreneurs across the globe have been scrambling to apply it to everyday life. But who is leading the race? Who has the best ideas? And who will take over the world once they’ve worked out what to do with Graphene? In 2010 two researchers from The University of Manchester in the UK received the coveted Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the material. So, why has this ‘miracle material’ not been brought to the mass market since its discovery in 2004, and, more importantly who will be the first to introduce Graphene in to our everyday lives? Let’s first consider which country leads the race:
Secondly, companies; Well, rafts of new companies seem to have sprung up in the wake of this exciting innovation and there seem to be three or four major geographical players. Perhaps most importantly when speculating (which is all we can do at this stage) on the first commercial application for Graphene, we need to consider which company holds the highest number of patents. This provides insight into who is taking the race most seriously, and attempting to compete in the most aggressive manner. Will it be used for conducting heat, transmitting electricity or simply for the latest breakthrough in funky gadgetry? Well, South Korean electronics giant Samsung has the most patents, so. . .
The United States were always going to go head to head with countries from the Far East in developing new technologies based on Graphene’s seemingly magical properties. However, recently, a European consortium emerged as a third contender in the battle for Graphene supremacy.
In January 2013, some 126 research groups hailing from a total of 17 different countries were awarded a staggeringly large grant. £860m has been pumped into this initiative which is charged with the task of finding new and viable commercial applications for Graphene.
The key areas that this group, as well as the Americans and the Chinese, will be focusing on are energy production, electronic products and aerospace.
Talk of flexible laptops (perhaps by Samsung) and animated newspapers like the fictional ones in the Harry Potter stories, may have seemed like an impossibility when we first watched the films, but in theory, the technology seems to be heading our way at an alarming rate.
Now, because the stage of any development will understandably be kept under wraps by the innovators working on it, it’s hard to say who will emerge as the world leader in this exciting new technology until they actually unveil a portfolio of mind-blowing new applications and products. But one thing’s for sure: Graphene is a game-changer and it could be the biggest innovation success for decades to come.
We also need to consider the fact that new materials like Graphene, will at some stage, have to replace materials which are not renewable, meaning their discovery and development is not only exciting for scientists and innovators but key to civilization:
“Graphene is not only ‘the next big thing’ in advanced materials. It is a solution to the pending extinction of a whole category of rare materials that we will need to replace, and soon.” Michael Tomczyk, Managing Director at Wharton’s Mack centre for technological innovation.