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How the ‘wonder material’ graphene is being used in the real world

Posted on 18/10/2017

Dr Anna Mieczakowski of FGV Cambridge Nanosystems talks about how the material is making planes lighter, buildings safer and components last longer.

Graphene is the world’s thinnest and strongest material with huge potential for applications in aviation, aerospace, health, electronics and automotive sectors to name a few. From faster and more robust racing cars, to lighter aircraft, from rust-free paint to super-thin heaters and something we could all do with: unbreakable mobile phones.

FGV Cambridge Nanosystems, a spin-out from Cambridge University, specialises in the production and sale of CamGraph® powder graphene, inks, coatings and composites.

“The incorporation of graphene in composite shells offers not only a stronger and stiffer solution, but it can conduct heat away from high temperature regions such as an engine bay”, says Dr Anna Mieczakowski, Chief Operations Officer.

“Moreover, advanced composites are now accounting for more than half of the weight of modern aircraft. Graphene enhanced carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CFRP), in particular, are paving the way to the production of lighter planes. The potential weight saving of a Boeing 787 is 3,700 kilos, while in the process significantly reducing fuel consumption and, in turn, contributing to CO2 reductions in the atmosphere. Among many other possibilities, graphene also improves the strength and reduces the weight of CFRPs used to manufacture sports equipment, from skis to tennis rackets to bicycle frames and helmets.”

Another area that is currently revolutionising the materials market is graphene coatings, widely used as an electrical or thermal conductor in a range of materials. Furthermore, graphene coatings for anti-corrosion, hydrophobicity, fire-retardancy and chemiresistor gas sensing are providing levels of protection previously unachieved by other material coatings.

Whilst rusting and metal corrosion isn’t a problem which can be solved overnight, graphene has proven itself to be an effective material in slowing its progression. Graphene coatings are ideal at combatting corrosion in applications where a thin coating is favourable; ‘hard-to-reach’ areas like electronic components or implantable devices.

“Graphene is also one of the most promising candidates for the next-generation of high performance gas sensors” says Anna. This is because of its high flexibility and sensitivity to gas absorption and desorption. One of their clients has produced functional chemiresistor gas sensors using their graphene coating.

It’s not just metal coatings where graphene is useful. A graphene coating applied to wood both significantly enhances the hydrophobic nature of the coating and improves its fire-retardancy. Anna explains: “Uncoated timber instantly absorbs moisture, introduces dirt and most importantly acts as a fuel because it displays very poor fire-retardancy. A water based graphene coating for wood offers a great solution for combatting these issues.”

Whilst we witness a growing understanding of graphene’s applications, market value and to achieve high scale production facilities, it is clear that graphene is a ‘wonder material’ and FGV Cambridge Nanosystems have certainly been successful in penetrating the commercial market.

Join KTN’s Graphene and 2D materials Special Interest Group and stay up to date with the latest news and insight, plus receive invitations to events and information about funding.

If you liked this article, also see: Why industry is ready to pounce on graphene opportunities

and also Innovate UK’s introductory video on graphene.