New jewel in the crown of Manchester’s Graphene Valley

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Here’s a first look at the next £60 million phase of the Manchester Graphene Valley project.

The futuristic Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) will accelerate the process of getting graphene products to the marketplace. It is hoped that this new institution will help the city gain the most value from the two-dimensional product which was first produced here.

The building, which will sit on the University of Manchester’s North Campus (near Manchester Piccadilly Train Station), has been designed by leading architect Rafael Vinoly and should be finished by 2017.

It will house a state-of-the-art research and technology development facility, which is to be led by industry leaders rather than academics. The centre will focus on the applications of graphene and, it is hoped, will lead to a boost in the number of graphene patents coming from the UK.

What is Graphene?

Graphene molecular structureWidely referred to as the ‘miracle material’ or the ‘world’s first 2D material’ – Graphene is a crystalline form of carbon in which a single layer of carbon atoms are arranged in a regular hexagonal pattern.

While this might all sound a bit complicated, the properties of this material are easy to grasp.

It is very strong, very light and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. These properties make graphene suitable for a whole range of uses like lightweight electric circuits, flexible display screens and super-efficient solar cells among many, many others.

Manchester, the home of Graphene

Manchester became the home of graphene back in 2004 when two researchers at the University of Manchester became the first to successfully isolate graphene from graphite.

Carrying out research which would later win them the Nobel Prize in Physics, Prof Andre Geim and Prof Kostya Novoselov successfully produced graphene in their Manchester lab using a roll of scotch tape.

Following on from its initial discovery in the city, Manchester has grown to become a world leader in researching and producing the material.

And it is institutions like the National Graphene Institute (NGI), and now the GEIC, as well as events like Graphene Week which was held at the University of Manchester earlier this year, which help the city to maintain its advantage in the field.

Will the GEIC help boost the British graphene business?

Despite being a world leader in graphene research, Britain lags behind its international competitors when it comes to converting this research into patents. Patenting of graphene-based products has risen rapidly in recent years.

There has been an 802% increase in the number of published patents worldwide between 2010 and 2014.

So far, British innovation has been outstripped by competitors in the USA and Asia.

South Korean based Samsung holds the largest graphene patent portfolio and, given its substantial collaborative research with Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), which holds the sixth largest patent portfolio, together these two applicants would appear to be the market leaders.

Although patenting doesn’t tell the full story and while Britain is still ahead of its major European rivals, it seems like more needs to be done to capitalise on the potential to promote graphene.

Currently, no UK companies appear to be in possession of large grapheme patent portfolios. A large proportion of UK patent applications originate from academia.

It is hoped that the GEIC would enable graphene products to be fast-tracked from the drawing board to the market. Chancellor George Osborne said that the new centre alongside the NGI put Manchester and the UK in pole position to “lead the world” in graphene technology.

Hi5 Electronics is a PCB prototyping specialist based in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. We love working with local companies and hope that more designers will be attracted to Manchester – the home of graphene.

For more information about what we do and how we can provide assistance to electronic product designers, give us a call. Dial: 01706 647 006.

 

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