The UK government has announced plans to invest £21.5 million to commercialise the “super material” graphene, which many regard as the natural successor to silicon as a semiconductor in modern technology.
Graphene is one of the thinnest, lightest, strongest and most conductive materials know to man, consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. Its versatility means that it can potentially support a wide variety of applications in electronics, energy generation and telecommunications.
On 5 October 2010, the Nobel Prize in Physics for the year was awarded to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester for the development of graphene, which was described as one of the world’s most groundbreaking scientific achievements.
In 2011, IBM researchers build the first graphene-based integrated circuit, able to operate at frequencies of up to 10GHz, or 10 billion cycles per second. Today's silicon-based circuits can only scale to about 4GHz.
Experiments with graphene have revealed a multitude of other potential uses, including accelerating future high-speed Internet, manufacturing fast-charging batteries and improving the speed and density of printable electronics.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has now identified what it regards to be the most promising research projects at Britain’s universities to benefit from the new government funding.
The University of Cambridge has been awarded over £12 million for research into graphene flexible electronics and optoelectronics, which could include things like touchscreens and other display devices.
London’s Imperial College will receive over £4.5 million to investigate aerospace applications of graphene, working with a number of industrial partners including Airbus.
The other successful projects are based at Durham University, the University of Manchester, the University of Exeter and Royal Holloway. The universities will be working with industrial partners such as Nokia, BAE Systems, Procter & Gamble, Qinetiq, Rolls-Royce, Dyson, Sharp and Philips Research, which together will bring a further £12 million to the table.
“The Government moved quickly and decisively to make sure this Nobel Prize winning technology invented here in the UK, was also developed here. It's exactly what our commitment to science and a proactive industrial strategy is all about – and we've beat off strong global competition,” said Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne,
“Now I am glad to announce investment that will help take it from the British laboratory to the British factory floor. This shows that even in tough times we are investing in science which is vital to helping the UK get ahead in the global race.”
Universities Minister David Willetts added that the research projects at these institutions will foster innovation, drive growth and help the UK get ahead in the global race.