Graphene – looking to the future

Graphene flagship – looking to the future
Since the start, the Graphene Flagship has always been designed to explore all the layered materials

The Graphene Flagship’s Professor Andrea Ferrari spoke to SciTech Europa Quarterly about some of the new and exciting developments taking place with regard to 2D materials.

The EU’s Graphene Flagship project is one of Europe’s biggest research initiatives. Over the course of its 10 year lifetime it will receive €1bn in funding to bring together academic and industrial researchers to take graphene and related materials from the laboratory to the marketplace. As it does so, it will help create new jobs and opportunities.

SciTech Europa Quarterly spoke to theFlagship’s Science and Technology Officer, Professor Andrea Ferrari, about not only the progress that the Graphene Flagship is making, but also the potential of layered materials other than graphene, and both the challenges and opportunities for research into these new materials (and their commercial applications) at the global level.

Perhaps you could begin by briefly outlining the stage the Flagship has now reached?

We are not yet at the halfway point of the Flagship. We started in October 2013 and we have six more years to go until the end of the project. We will complete the Core 1 stage in March 2018. In April 2018 Core 2 will start, and we are now working to prepare Core 3.

We continue to progress steadily and we are moving in the right direction: towards taking graphene and related materials from the laboratory to the factory floor.

We are where we hoped to be when planning the Flagship in the Pilot phase.

We are already showcasing new technologies and devices in a variety of trade conferences, including the Mobile World Congress, and several patents and companies have originated from the Flagship Project.

How would you characterise international research on graphene and related materials more generally?

In Asia, for example in Korea, Singapore and China, there is a very large level of funding available. China, in particular, is targeting mass production and supporting the creation of new companies.

The European R&D landscape is more balanced between fundamental and applied research, while in USA emphasis is more on fundamental research.

The third Graphene Flagship US-EU workshop took place 23-25 October last year. What were the main things to come out of this?

From the point of view of the science, things were very interesting. However, it was apparent that the effort in USA is fragmented, with the lack of a very strong initiative focusing on graphene and related materials in the same way as we have in Europe in the form of the Graphene Flagship.

Many researchers in the USA, both in companies and universities, are calling for a more organised approach, and that could be achieved via a Flagship-type initiative.

Of course, graphene is not the only layered material to be investigated by the Flagship. Are there any others which are showing particular promise?

Since the start, the Graphene Flagship has always been designed to explore all the layered materials (of which there are some 2,000). This was written in the original proposal.

Work has started on a small fraction of the 2,000 or so layered materials other than graphene (maybe 10-20). Those that are more mature include boron nitride, molybdenum disulphide, tungsten disulphide, and tungsten diselenide, for example. Others which are currently in a less-advanced stage of development include phosphorene.

In terms of technology, the two materials close to a technological development similar to that of graphene are boron nitride and molybdenum disulphide. It will take a few years for the others to reach this stage.

The Flagship project has recently started working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on potential space-based applications for graphene. What has that involved?

The European flagship has received funding from ESA to conduct testing in “zero gravity” (i.e. free-fall conditions). The first 3 sets of experiments were performed in November and December 2017. These experiments saw graphene being tested in parabolic flights for a total of about an hour in zero gravity to test how graphene-based coatings can improve loop heat pipes, which could be used as cooling systems in satellites.

We are now analysing the data, with a further flight scheduled for the end of 2018/beginning 2019. If everything goes well and the pipe works properly, the plan is to test it on a satellite in the following years.

Another set of experiments, conducted in a drop-tower, considered how graphene could be used in solar sails.

Moving forwards, what is next for the Flagship?

We are now preparing for Core 3, to start in April 2020. In the short term, the main application focus is in composites. In the slightly longer term, we will start to see applications in optoelectronics, telecommunications, the Internet of Things (IoT) and indeed the Internet of Everything.

Applications in fields such as energy – novel kinds of batteries, for example – are very exciting, and could see significant developments in the next two to five years. In the longer term, we are looking forward to biomedical applications or high frequency electronics.


Professor Andrea Ferrari

Science and Technology Officer, Graphene Flagship Project

Director, Cambridge

Graphene Centre

This article will appear in SciTech Europa Quarterly issue 26, which will be published in March, 2018

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