Professor Jari Kinaret, the Director of the Graphene Flagship project, spoke to SciTech Europa at MWC, where he outlined how he works with all parties involved in the project to ensure its continued success.
Professor Jari Kinaret is the Director of the Graphene Flagship project which, according to the European Commission’s interim review report of the project’s first year following the two-and-half-year ramp-up phase, achieved most of its objectives and milestones and delivered exceptional results with significant immediate or potential impact. And this is a trend that has continued, with the Flagship now at the half way point of the initial ten year funding period, and so preparing to enter Core Three.
Kinaret is also the leader of the Condensed Matter Theory (CMT) group at the Department of Physics at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. He has a background in theoretical physics and electrical engineering and received his PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, in 1992. He has been at Chalmers since 1995 and his research focuses on electrical and mechanical phenomena on the nanoscale. He is also a member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA).
SciTech Europa spoke to Kinaret at the Mobile World Congress 2019 event in Barcelona Spain, where he outlined how he works with all parties involved in the project to ensure its continued success.
What is your role in the Graphene Flagship?
As the Director of the Graphene Flagship project, I act as something of a General Manager or CEO; I handle all our contacts with the European Commission, for instance, and I am in charge of the budgets for the work packages, and so on. We have a management team at Chalmers, and I lead their work.
Has the increased industry co-operation and participation in the Graphene Flagship resulted in more work for you and your team?
Industry partners are much easier to handle than academic ones, so the increase in industry partners has not resulted in too much of an increased workload (for me, at least). There is a sense that there is now a greater awareness of IP-related issues because technologies are maturing and more companies are emerging. Indeed, we have now started nine spin-out companies, some of which have been very successful in attracting funding, and that starts to bring in commercial interests as well.
How do you work with these companies to help them scale up?
In many cases, I hope, these spin-outs will become either associated members or partners of the Graphene Flagship in Core Three.
In addition, we have recently initiated a dialogue with the European Investment Fund (EIF) and the European Investment Bank (EIB), and we have written a letter to the Vice President of the European Commission, Jyrki Katainen, highlighting some of the difficulties that small, research-intensive companies experience in the funding structure, and that discussion is picking up speed.
Given that the Graphene Flagship is an EU initiative, do you have any particular concerns over the impact of Brexit? For Professor Andrea Ferrari, it is a ‘hard’ Brexit which will have the most severe consequences.
Yes, it depends on the kind of Brexit that we see. And while we don’t know what that is going to be at the moment, we have nevertheless had a Brexit committee that has been working for some 18 months to explore the possible outcomes. Here, we have identified numerous different scenarios and thus what we need to do if a particular scenario becomes a reality. The main problem for us will be if one of the more difficult scenarios emerges, because we may not have the time to properly implement some of the necessary measures required to mitigate the impact. That being said, we can cope with just about everything as long as we have enough time.
Moving forward, where do you see the challenges and opportunities for the Graphene Flagship?
The challenges, and indeed opportunities, vary from field to field. Some parts of the Graphene Flagship are much closer to market applications – in an area such as composite materials, for instance, we are beginning to see quite a few products reaching the market, while in electronics we can produce very impressive prototypes in the laboratory, but it is the scaling up to the production of tens of thousands, if not millions, of units that can often present a significant challenge.
In light of this, I have managed to convince the European Commission that additional funding into that area would have a profoundly positive impact, and so now we are preparing the ‘experimental pilot line’ to properly explore manufacturing issues such as increasing volumes, improve yield, and reproducibility in the field of electronics.
Do you have industry partners in place which are able to take on manufacturing at scale?
Yes, we do. Companies such as Nokia and Erickson, as well as other electronics companies, are keen to be on board because they know that it is necessary and, indeed, that it is something that won’t be achieved alone. That recognition and appetite is very important for us.
In other areas, such as medical technologies, the timeline to market is much longer, which means that it is likely to take in the region of another ten years for us to begin to see any significant impact, at least in the more invasive areas that we study.
For instance, we are working to develop sensors that measure electrical signals in the brain and which can perhaps offer deeper brain stimulation. We hope to start clinical trials on these devices in about a year’s time, and then from the clinical trials we expect it to take five-to-ten years to reach the necessary level of maturity for them to meet the different regulations and so reach the market.
Of course, that will take you beyond the end of the current funding period for the Graphene Flagship. How else would you like to see the project continue beyond 2023?
All the planning documents that the European Commission have published about the future of funding, mainly in relation to Horizon Europe, state that the Graphene Flagship will continue to be funded, although, as yet, we don’t know the level of that funding. As such, I expect that after the Horizon 2020 phase we will have a few years of additional time with presumably ramped down funding (we would not presume to expect the continuation of €50m a year), which would make sense as going abruptly from €50m to zero would send shockwaves through the entire system.
Beyond that, I hope that the different industries will pick up speed and do the necessary development work towards commercialisation. In areas like medical technologies, there is also a need for additional support, and given the research that is taking place on 2D material heterostructures, new developments might also require additional support in order to help them mature and so progress towards industrialisation. Hopefully, those kinds of activities can be supported with public funding moving forwards.
Professor Jari Kinaret