Show report: Graphene supply, application and commercialization 2014 (Manchester, UK)

It’s been 10 years since graphene was isolated by Geim and Novoselov at Manchester University in the UK. Today, graphene is available to purchase from a range of suppliers, you can buy equipment for growing it on wafers and foils and you can find graphene in products on the market, but the so-called “wonder material” is still in the early stages of its commercial journey.

Taking shape: the National Graphene Institute at Manchester, UK. The state-of-the-art facility is due to open in March 2015, but staff will start moving in from October this year to begin proving out the building services.

Taking shape: the National Graphene Institute at Manchester, UK. The state-of-the-art facility is due to open in March 2015, but staff will start moving in from October this year to begin proving out the building services.

“Short term applications will pave the way towards the principal uses of graphene,” Jani Kivioja, head of nanomaterials at Nokia, told attendees at LBC’s popular graphene conference series – now in its second year – which examines prospects for the 2D allotrope of carbon from an industrial perspective.

Early wins
TMR+ has reported graphene’s use as an additive to prevent drilling fluid degradation at high-temperature (see – Agensi Inovasi Malaysia and Graphene Nanochem team up to develop innovation hub), and there were other early wins presented at the event. Ready-for-market examples included a transparent conductive coating from TBA, which provides electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection to industrial lighting in explosive environments such as oil refineries or mining works (see TBA case study – PDF).

Graphene coatings are also of interest to Tata Steel, another attendee at the meeting. The firm sees the material’s barrier properties as an option for delivering anti-corrosion performance and extending the lifetime of its major products.

Plastic fantastic
Other areas with market potential include composite materials, where graphene’s high strength makes it an attractive additive. Its sheet-like form is beneficial during processing as graphene platelets flow easily over each other unlike carbon nanotubes, which can knot together and make composite mixtures much more viscous and harder to manage.

Karl Coleman, a professor at Durham University and one of the founders of Applied Graphene Materials, added that graphene is very good at reducing nitrogen permeation in thermoplastics, which is of interest in the packaging sector. Also, the low loading levels required preserve colour and transparency in the host material, which can be significant. Coleman is involved in Grapol, a four year project sponsored by EPSRC and partnered by Proctor and Gamble, and Dyson – two big consumers of thermoplastics.

As Coleman and others highlighted the effective integration of graphene into host materials is strongly dependent on surface functionalization, which is an area that suppliers such as Haydale are targeting with their plasma-treated graphene nanoplatelets. Surface functionalization also opens the door to the use of graphene in sensing applications, a sector that Nokia was upbeat about.

But will this be the killer application? For graphene to really take off there is a sense that it has to offer something different, something that no existing material on the market can do.

“Where I believe graphene can make a difference and be potentially disruptive is through its multifunctionality,” commented James Baker, who has moved from BAE Systems to become business director at the UK’s National Graphene Institute (NGI) – a £61 million facility under construction at Manchester University.

Graphene is unique in possessing so many record-breaking properties, but as we’ve mentioned previously on TMR+, designing multifunctional components to capitalize on this requires significant developer resources (see – Trajectories in translation: parallels between old and new materials) and pushes out the timeline for translating breakthroughs into the marketplace.

Facilities such as the NGI intend to bring academia and industry together under one roof to accelerate the commercialization of graphene from technology readiness levels 3-5 into early process validation. In September 2013, graphene CVD expert Bluestone signed up as the NGI’s first strategic partner and the building is on track to open in Q1 2015.

Reality check
Achim Hoffmann of IP group, a UK-based team of investors bridging the chasm between science and the city (financial district), reminded attendees that graphene is “technology before application”, which adds to the challenge. “We invest in businesses and value propositions – not materials,” emphasised Hoffmann. “Start-ups need to focus on who their customer is and how they address the market.”

Dispite the difficulties, a commercial landscape for graphene is emerging. Mark Rahn of MTI Ventures, who also spoke at the event, estimates that there are 23 countries (at least) with graphene companies. Europe hopes to be a major player through its Graphene Flagship, and across Asia there’s a wave of companies now making graphene in some shape or form – a point made by Kitty Cha of BASF and echoed by my colleagues at IOP China.

Device development
Seungmin Cho was representing Samsung Techwin at the workshop and talked about his team’s work on transparent electrodes. Using a graphene/PET film created by roll-to-roll processing, the group has demonstrated the manufacture of fully functional 4” touch screens – see ACS Nano 8 (2014) – but whether these devices make it into full production remains to be seen. “We need to find something that ITO cannot do,” Cho told the audience.

I got the impression from Shu-Jen Han’s presentation that graphene could be a hard sell in digital logic chips too. Han is a master inventor at IBM’s Yorktown Heights site in the US. The lack of a band gap in graphene means that devices are hard to turn off (in other words, you can write 1’s, but it’s tricky writing 0’s). There are ways of modifying the material to get around this, but from a commercial perspective the additional steps required are unattractive.

RF electronics on the other hand could be a much better match for the material. “For analogue devices you don’t have to turn the transistor fully on or fully off,” he explained. The IBM team has built a test circuit that can demodulate a digital signal carried over RF – see Nature Comm. 5, 3086 (2014). What’s more, the graphene chip was stable across a wide temperature range and up to high temperatures, which differentiates the device from versions made using traditional semiconductors.

Large organizations taking an interest in graphene include Lockheed Martin, which sees water security as a key part of its future business and believes that the 2D material could play an important role. To explain, Steve Sinton – principal chemist and Lockheed Martin fellow – introduced his team’s work on a perforated graphene membrane dubbed “Perforene”, which is seen as a promising platform for water purification (see datasheet – PDF). The work is early stage, but already the group has demonstrated that “Perforene” can reject salt ions from a test solution and copper from industrial wastewater, which has potential benefits in areas such as the electronics industry.

These are just a few highlights from what I found to be an insightful two days of talks and discussion. For further details on the event visit – – and for more on graphene, check out the links below.

Related content on the web –


Graphene: fabrication methods and thermophysical properties (Physics-Uspekhi)

Graphene: Applications and future uses (IOP)

Graphene coverage on

Graphene circuit ready for wireless (IBM Research blog)


Aixtron # Applied Graphene Materials # Bluestone # Cientifica # Graphoid # Haydale # Ocsial # Perpetuus # Planartech #

Show report: Metal additive manufacturing 2014 (Sheffield, UK)

As promised in the flyer, the Association of Laser Users (AILU) event brought together a mix of additive manufacturing (AM) experts from industry and academia to discuss the tough topics that are all too often ignored in the media hype surrounding 3D printing. Split into four sessions, the meeting was chaired by Robert Scudamore from manufacturing and fabrication consultants TWI.

Setting the scene
The aerospace sector is a prime candidate for lightweight, lattice structures that are easy to build using AM tools. Also, 3D printers enable a high-level of part customization, which benefits medical implants and patient-specific surgical tools. But both aerospace and medical sectors require significant materials and process qualification.

Also, there are setup costs to factor in. Additive techniques such as 3D printing use much less material than subtractive processes such as milling, but the initial materials outlay can still be high. For example, filling an industrial laser sintering machine with virgin titanium powder can cost thousands of pounds.

Speed of production is another issue, with some parts taking hundreds of hours to build.

Reality check
One of the first speakers to start busting the myths was Robin Wilson from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB). “Additive manufacturing is not just printing from CAD,” he told delegates. Potential users need to consider the whole process, which as Wilson points out involves a significant “digital data supply chain” and physical “post-processing” of the finished component.

Stéphane Abed of Poly-Shape, who also spoke at the meeting, manufactures parts using a tool path that co-ordinates four beams. These multiple lasers can build several smaller components at once or construct different sections of a single work-piece simultaneously, to improve production rates. But having multiple optical-trains also ramps up the number of variables in the process.

Listening to the presentations, it’s clear that AM has no shortage of parameters that influence the quality of the manufactured part – laser power, writing speed, powder flow rate (for nozzle-blown setups), particle size distribution and recycle rate, are just a few.

It can be done
Throughout the day, process control remained a key talking point. Trevor Illston of Materials Solutions, who led the final session of talks, is optimistic that AM can be controlled to a “production standard” by inspecting workpieces at multiple points in the AM process.

Giving the audience food for thought, Illston added that there can be a downside to the design freedom that 3D printing brings to the table, as it’s possible to create parts that are incredibly difficult to examine!

In general though, unlocking traditional design constraints is a big win for AM – and despite the production challenges, all of the speakers recognized that major opportunities are up for grabs.

The medical sector is a growth area for AM, not just for implants, but also for custom tools such as cutting blocks to guide surgery. Medical centres are looking at options for manufacturing parts in hospital to speed up delivery to the patient. Ideas here include flat-packed production tools that can be sterilized and then assembled in theatre.

“AM often solves one problem beautifully, but it can create other issues,” said Edward Draper of JRI Orthopaedics, who spoke in the opening session. Draper picked up on Wilson’s earlier remark about post-build processing, and emphasised the requirement for cleaning and polishing.

Something new
Images of medical devices, helicopter components and fixtures for satellites are becoming a familiar sight at AM conferences and events, but Neil Burns of Croft Engineering had something new for the audience – filtration parts. Traditionally, Croft Engineering has made filtration supports by shaping wire mesh, but the bending process leads to apertures that are non-uniform. To get around this, Burns showed how his company uses AM (inspired by a trip to Fab Lab in Manchester, UK) to build filtration supports with holes that are aligned to the direction of fluid flow – a design feature that saves customers money by reducing the amount of energy that’s required to pump liquid through the component. Despite the benefits, Burns revealed that clients can be cautious about using AM parts. They fear downtime caused by mechanical failure.

But what is the effect of AM on materials performance? How do AM samples behave under load compared with material that has been cast or milled? AM components might look fine on the outside, but what’s happening to the internal structure of the material? Also, how does the strength of parts made using different machines compare, or parts that are built on the same machine, but formed using a different tool path, or using powders with a different particle size distribution or storage history?

Team effort
To tackle this, AM needs its own materials database and standards – a point made by many attendees, including Neil Mantle of Rolls-Royce. What’s more, the task requires a collaborative effort. Contributions so far include EU initiatives such as SASAM (Support Action for Standardisation in Additive Manufacturing) and the UK’s ANVIL project to establish benchmarks and design guides for AM.

A continuing development is the use of technology hubs to support AM projects at technology readiness levels (TRL) 4-6, or in other words to translate projects from proof-of-concept to pilot-scale operation.

David Wimpenny from the UK’s Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), which was established in 2010 to bridge the gap between academia and industry, was at the event. “Our role is to make parts that industry can relate to in terms of size and quality,” he explained.

Today, the MTC is part of the UK’s high value manufacturing (HVM) catapult – a network of seven technology centres with a shared goal of accelerating process innovation.

Related links –

Metal Additive Manufacturing: opportunities in applications and improvements in process technology (full programme)

MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part four

In symposium K (Micro- and nanoscale processing of material for biomedical devices) Orlando Auciello, the current MRS president and founding scientist of Advanced Diamond Technologies, updated the audience on commercial applications of ultrananocrystalline diamond (UNCD) coatings.

UNCD coatings are of great interest in the biomedical sector as they protect implants from degrading inside the body, and their smooth surface and low co-efficient of friction makes them a good match for artificial knees and hips.

Another key factor is the low-deposition temperature (350 – 400 degC), which means that the processing steps don’t destroy CMOS devices. In other words, you can coat detector arrays with UNCD and it stops saline from reacting with the silicon and destroying the chip, which is a big deal for implants to the eye.

Building on this, Auciello showed some impressive work being carried out by the firm Second Sight, which uses UNCD to coat its artificial retina devices. Second Sight’s 270 electode product dubbed Argus II has been implanted in 31 previously blind patients from the US, UK, France, Switzerland and Mexico, who can now read large letters and identify objects thanks to the Second Sight apparatus.

Another materials system that could benefit the eye is magnetic nanoparticles, in this case by improving surgery for attaching retinas that have come away from the back of the eye. Auciello and his colleagues have shown that magnetic nanoparticles can be injected into the eye and then manipulated using a remote magnetic source to steer the retina into position.

Bringing industry back to the MRS

Further reading on TMR+

MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part five (final)
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part three
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part two
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part one

MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part one

Advanced materials and structures for rechargable batteries is a key track at this year’s MRS Fall conference and drew a large audience from the start.

Bruce Dunn of UCLA opened the presentations by highlighting the potential of 2D forms of TiO2 and TiS2 for upgrading battery performance. He added that there was the possibility of integrating these materials with graphene in a one-step exfoliation step, which could open up device opportunities. Speaking with him after the session though, he was reluctant to make any predictions in terms of translation.

In fact, most of the researchers I met today weren’t keen on talking about when we could expect to see results coming through into the market, which given the number of hurdles that have to be overcome in taking an idea from the lab and turning it into a viable product, isn’t a complete surprise.

Ways of improving the cycling performance of batteries and capacitors remained the talking point both before and after the coffee break. Potential solutions here included deformation tolerant carbon nanotube sponges and a range of electrode designs featuring materials such as core-shell nanoparticles or hollow carbon fibres, which offer void space to accommodate any expansion of the device during operation, to stop cracks from forming.

Smart thinking on the menu
The discussion then moved on to crabs and rice, not because lunch had arrived, but because both crab shells and rice husks offer a readily available and low-cost source of nanoporous material, which could in principle be used as electrolyte supports.

Another way to tackle to problem of cracking in batteries is to develop structures that can heal themselves – an idea that Yi Cui and Zhenan Bao of Stanford University are following up through the addition of a polymer coating, which can re-form when broken, through hydrogen bonding.

Stay tuned for part two, when I promise I will have an update that ticks all of the boxes for translation.

Further reading on TMR+

MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part five (final)
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part four
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part three
MRS Fall 2013 highlights – part two

From lab to market: translational materials research high on the agenda at MRS Fall 2013

Information station: IOP Publishing booth 114

Information station: IOP Publishing booth 114

Next week, TMR+ will be reporting from the MRS Fall meeting in Boston, US, so do bookmark the blog and check back from Monday (2 Dec) evening for daily highlights from the show.

Topics on the radar include – synthesis and energy storage properties of 2D materials; nanomaterials design for advanced rechargeable batteries; bio-inspired synthesis and assembly of functional materials; efficient, high-speed roll-to-roll CVD of graphene; and skutterudite materials (and modules) for automotive waste heat recovery.

But that’s just a taster, you can find the full programme at

Unlocking materials innovation
Organized by John Busbee (Xerion Advanced Battery Corporation), Alan Brown (ICStrategies), Jeffrey T. Glass (Duke University) and Patti Glaza (Arsenal Venture Partners) – Technology Innovation Forum VI is all about the art of translating materials science innovations into successful businesses.

The day-long event, which takes place on Wednesday (4 Dec), brings together industry leaders, venture capitalists (VCs) and developers to examine what it really takes to get ideas out of the lab and into the market.

Here, Matthew Nordan of VC firm Venrock will start the session by looking at ways to short-cut the long adoption cycles and high-capital requirements that can make the materials science sector a tough environment for start-ups.

Partnerships are one way of navigating around some of these obstacles, and Nordan’s opening talk is followed by a panel discussion looking at the ways that large and small companies can work together.

Production know-how
Another session not to be missed is – Transitioning new materials from lab to manufacturing – which explores how researchers can develop and find the expertise to scale-up their concepts to market volumes in a cost-effective manner. On hand with ideas and know-how will be Travis Earles (Lockheed Martin), Robert Kumpf (Plextronics), Susan Babinec (ARPA-E) and Manish Mehta (National center for manufacturing sciences).

Other highlights in the technology innovation forum programme include – “Perks and pitfalls”, “Resources and support”, “Roadmaps for early-stage entrepreneurship”, and an unvarnished look at the “Life and times of a serial entrepreneur”.

See you there.

And if you can’t make it to Boston, don’t forget that you can watch the live stream via MRS OnDemand.

Show report: 3D printing & additive manufacturing 2013

3D printers and their extended family of additive manufacturing (AM) tools have been dismissed by some as being too slow for mass-production, but there are game-changing opportunities on the horizon – as highlighted at yesterday’s industry summit in London. Big names such as Airbus, Boeing, EADS, Bayer, IBM and Volvo are looking at the technology in a positive light.

Bernhard Müller from the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology began the day by summarizing the state of play, pointing out AM’s origins as a design tool, but adding that production teams are becoming more involved with the technology.

Dyson is one of many, many firms making great use of AM for rapid prototyping and has three EOS selective laser sintering machines, two Ipro 8000 stereolithography systems and two Eden Objet 3D printers running almost full-time to road-test new product ideas.

But Jessica Middlemiss, senior materials engineer at the firm, flagged up the mismatch between the material properties of the AM components compared with downstream injection moulded versions – an issue that makes it much harder to predict final product performance.

Help could be on its way though.

Thomas Buesgen, senior project manager 3D printing at Bayer Material Science, revealed that they are working hard to provide materials for AM that are more elastic, highlighting a new product – TPU 92A-1 – a thermoplastic designed for SLS systems that is being marketed as the first fully-functional flexible material in 3D printing.

Buesgen also observes that the injection moulding sector is keeping a much closer eye on AM, another sign that layer-by-layer assembly is being taken more seriously in manufacturing circles.
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Agensi Inovasi Malaysia and Graphene Nanochem team up to develop innovation hub

Panel discussion featuring the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, and Graphene Nanochem CEO, Jespal Deol.

Panel discussion featuring (left) the Prime Minister of Malaysia – Najib Razak – and Jespal Deol, CEO of Graphene Nanochem.

Speaking this week at the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) in London, UK, Dato’ Jespal Deol, CEO of Graphene Nanochem, which has manufacturing plants in Malaysia, described how a graphene hub could build on product success in the oil and gas industry and bring innovation to other tech sectors.

The company makes speciality chemicals and advanced nanomaterials from renewable sources including waste materials, which goes hand-in-hand with Malaysia’s focus on using agricultural biomass as a feedstock for high-value products (National Biomass Strategy 2020: New wealth creation for Malaysia’s biomass industryPDF download).

Deol, a lawyer by training, has a methodical approach to building a business based on graphene. “You need to assure the financial community that this is a viable product,” he told the audience. “You need to demonstrate supply side capability and product know-how”.

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Additive manufacturing: building the bigger picture

Low-cost 3D printers have done a great job of putting additive manufacturing (AM) – the process of making objects layer upon layer – on the map, but they only scratch the surface of what this approach has to offer. To see the full range of opportunities, it’s worth taking a deeper look.

The European collaboration of rapid manufacturing has done just that and its 2013 Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) report (PDF) is a worthwhile read for anyone wanting to know more about a field that also goes by the name of direct digital manufacture or e-manufacturing.

Frits Feenstra, who co-ordinates the platform, is well versed in AM, which encompasses a range of processes such as powder bed fusion, directed energy deposition and material jetting.

“3D printing brings something different to the party,” he told delegates at COMS 2013. To support the comment, Feenstra points out that AM gives you the opportunity to embed sensors or to integrate multiple materials and create graded structures with a distribution of physical properties.

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The dash for cash: a new funding landscape for high-tech start-ups

Steve Walsh and Ray Quintana at COMS 2013

Ray Quintana (left) and Steve Walsh discuss funding options (Credit: Eric Brinkhorst, COMS 2013)

Business experts speaking at COMS 2013, an annual conference that focuses on the commercialization of micro- and nanotechnologies, offered a stark reminder of the ongoing impact of the global financial crisis on scientists and engineers who want to convert their research into a business venture. Jelto Kromwijk Smit of the Dutch investment firm Prime Ventures said that venture capital funding in Europe has fallen from €8bn in 2007 to €4bn in 2012, which in practice means that most VCs are targeting their investments towards established companies with products that are almost ready for market. Banks and institutional investors have also steered away from the start-up sector as they seek to reduce risk and stabilize their balance sheets.

So far, so pessimistic. But speakers also highlighted several new ways for early-stage companies to raise some cash. Continue reading

Gearing up for the commercialization of micro- and nanotechnologies

Finalist Peter Höjerback of Serstech

Showcase event: Young Technology Award

We’re back from COMS 2013 – an annual conference organized by members of MANCEF, which focuses on the commercialization of micro- and nanotechnology. The event is bang on target for anyone looking to take an idea from the lab into the marketplace as it brings together not just technical experts, but also business brains and venture capitalists.

This year’s conference host – the University of Twente in the Netherlands – is a great example of a university that recognizes the value of innovation and offers developers support through a series of shared facilities. These include the MESA+ institute for nanotechnology, its prototyping environment – NanoLab, and the nearby High Tech Factory where early-stage companies can scale-up production.

The region is also home to Kennispark Twente – an innovation campus that every year welcomes about 60-70 new startups from partner organizations, the University of Twente and Saxion University of Applied Sciences.

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