Advanced materials company First Graphene (ASX: FGR) has become a Tier 1 partner at the University of Manchester’s new Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC).
The news means that FGR will gain access to its own research laboratories and dedicated research programmes in collaboration with the University of Manchester, including the experience of its incumbent research team that has swelled up to several hundred personnel over the past few years.
The GEIC is a £60 million facility in the heart of the Advanced Materials Engineering campus in Manchester and was designed to drive the commercialisation of graphene and 2D materials.
The facility complements the existing National Graphene Institute, also at the University of Manchester while operating a “hub and spoke model” that also includes the Henry Royce Institute.
FGR will have access to the core capabilities and equipment of the centre and it will also have a seat on a technical advisory board which guides the strategic direction of the centre.
The GEIC will have “leading-edge” equipment and facilities and is expected to be fully equipped and commissioned by the end of this year.
Resources industry veteran and First Graphene chairman Warwick Gregor hailed the move as means of “accelerating the commercialisation path” for First Graphene as the company continues to progress the development and refinement of its low-cost graphene production process.
“Our aim is to accelerate the commercialisation of real-world applications and transition graphene and other 2D materials from the lab to the marketplace,” said James Baker, CEO of Graphene@Manchester, a formal representative for the University of Manchester.
“The GEIC will bring in an additional 30 staff in addition to academics to grow the community to over 300 graphene-related staff at the University. First Graphene is one of the first three companies to sign-up with the GEIC as a ‘Tier One’ partner. We anticipate that Tier One partners are likely to be larger SMEs and multinationals with interests that span multiple application domains,” said Mr Baker.
En route to a graphene-powered future
First Graphene’s ultimate target (just like for many other graphene hopefuls in the sector) is to create the most economical, commercial scale graphene production methodology that suits a range of applications in various manufacturing sectors including batteries, building materials and membranes.
One area of research which is being very highly studied is energy storage.
Currently, scientists are working on enhancing the capabilities of lithium-ion batteries (by incorporating graphene as an anode) to offer much higher storage capacities with much better longevity and charge rate.
Also, given its excellent conductive qualities, graphene has been earmarked for use in supercapacitors which allow for fast charging rates in combination with larger energy capacity.
First Graphene is hopeful that by taking a leading position as a Tier 1 partner at the GEIC, it can be one of the first companies to develop ground-breaking graphene-based products and processes that will revolutionise a whole host of industries including energy, travel, manufacturing and healthcare.
The first phase of the GEIC was handed over in May 2018, comprising an international research and technology facility. The project reportedly cost £60 million (A$107 million) and works are well underway to fit out the laboratories ahead of the centre opening later this year.
Together, the National Graphene Institute (NGI) and GEIC are expected to provide an “unrivalled critical mass of graphene expertise” that could place Manchester as the leading development hub for graphene technology globally.
Funding for the £60 million facility was obtained from several sources – £15 million came from the UK’s Research Partnership Investment Fund; Masdar, the Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy company owned by Mubadala provided a further £30 million, with the remaining £15 million provided by Innovate UK, the European Regional Development Fund and the Local Growth Fund.
As part of the GEIC’s operations, the facility will obtain oversight from an advisory panel including the likes of Airbus, BAE Systems, BP, GKN Aerospace, GSK, Jaguar Land Rover and Siemens “to guide early stage planning”.
“The board of FGR strongly believes that to be the leading graphene supplier, we must have the best technologies developed in collaboration with the best research partners, suppliers and customers. First Graphene is very pleased to join with the University of Manchester team at GEIC, establishing a presence in the UK for the first time. The strong focus of GEIC on industry collaboration is an important step in taking graphene applications into manufacturing, thereby accelerating the commercialisation path,” said Warwick Grigor, chairman of First Graphene.