Q&A with James Baker, CEO of Graphene@Manchester

1. At the start of the year, the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC) became operational with the vision of seeing ‘industry-led development in graphene applications in partnership with academics’. How has the response been so far from industry?

The GEIC was officially opened in Dec 2018 and we had over 600 visitors including c250 from Industry over several days who visited and expressed an interest in the GEIC and broader graphene activity. To date we have had over 100 industrial partners working on graphene projects and already since the opening of the GEIC and start of operational capabilities we have signed 5 T1 partners to the GEIC including Haydale, 2D-Tech, First Graphene, Tunghsu and UMIP (UoM Spin-out companies) as well as other project/T2 partners including Airbus. Other partners are in advanced discussions and generally, the response to the GEIC and engagement model has been very positive. Priority is on getting the GEIC to full operational capability by mid-year and further partners are expected to join.

2. The GEIC joins the National Graphene Institute, another multi-million pounds facility at the University of Manchester – can you tell us how the two facilities are designed to work alongside each other and how much cross collaboration you envisage?

The NGI is aimed at academic lead “exploratory” research in collaboration with industry (at TRL level 1-4/5) whereas GEIC is aimed at Industry lead “exploitive” research in collaboration with academia (at TRL 3-6). More simply the NGI and GEIC are complementary to each other and work closely together as innovation often moves in steps (forward and backwards!) The facilities are also very complementary with the NGI containing cleanrooms and equipment up to a lab-based demonstrator and the GEIC more “factory-like” and focuses on pilot production and scale-up.

3. Ford and Huawei have recently announced products incorporating graphene, how would you summarise the overall progress being made with industry adoption?

Despite still being only 15 years since the first isolation of graphene at The University of Manchester in 2004 (teenage years) we are already seeing the first “significant” products reaching the marketplace from training shoes (Inov-8), Ford and Huawei being good examples. I expect, in particular with the opening of the GEIC to see a real acceleration of products reaching the market in the next two years and graphene reaching a “tipping point” in terms of products in the marketplace.

4. With so much of the development of graphene taking place in the laboratory until now, how prepared are graphene producers when it comes to manufacturing in high volumes? Do you feel there is sufficient knowledge and technology available to produce graphene safely, with consistency in quality and at high enough volume to satisfy industry demand?

There has been a significant improvement in the graphene supply chain over the last few years and a number of suppliers can now supply graphene material at a quality, volume and more acceptable price. There has also been an advance in standards with work done for example with National Physics Laboratory (NPL) both in defining standards but also in producing “Good Practice Guides” for the measurement of the materials. We use the term graphenes to represent that there are many forms of 2D materials and what is “more important” is not only in understanding the characteristics of each of the materials but also on how the material might be added or formulated into a product or application. So, depending on the application, graphenes can now be bought by the Kg and by the tonne and significantly a number of companies have also now achieved registration in for example REACH which is critical for the mass supply of material.

5. In addition to the significant investment in graphene, the University of Manchester is also home to some key hub’s in advanced materials including the Henry Royce Institute and the BP-sponsored International Centre for Advanced Materials. How beneficial is it to Graphene@Manchester to have these other groups located in such close proximity?

The University of Manchester has real strengths and world-leading research capabilities in advanced materials and this has been further strengthened with NGI, GEIC and also the Henry Royce Institute and BP ICAM. Manchester is also creating an eco-system of academia and supply-chain companies (including spin-outs, start-ups and overseas investors) to create capability both in Manchester and with our partners across the UK and internationally.

7. We are delighted that you will be taking part in our ‘Leaders in Advanced Materials’ panel to open the show, the university will also be exhibiting – can you tell us what we can expect to see on the stand?

This will be a great opportunity to talk about the progress and opportunity that advanced materials can provide for industry and also for example in supporting the “UK Grand Challenges” eg Mobility and clean growth.

8. What are you most looking forward to about The Advanced Materials Show?

The opportunity to network and meet current and future partners and collaborators to Graphene@Manchester and broader advanced materials discussions and opportunities.