UK’s commercialisation of miracle material is ‘woeful’, says IMechE

An example of graphene - photo courtesy of Andrea Ferrari, Cambridge Graphene Centre
The UK has filed just 54 graphene-based patents compared to 2,200 in China and 1,754 in South Korea. Image courtesy of Andrea-Ferrari

The UK is failing to harness commercial potential of graphene according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has released a policy statement that warns the UK is falling behind global competitors in finding commercial applications for graphene.

IMechE’s statement is scathing of British industry’s ability to support the commercialisation of university research into commercial applications for graphene, saying its translation of this has been woeful.

Graphene was hailed as a ‘miracle material’ in 2004 when its unique qualities were discovered by Professors Geim and Novoselov at Manchester University.

Dr Helen Meese, head of materials at IMechE, commented: “The UK is at the very forefront of graphene research, but academics are increasingly concerned that little is being done to encourage industry to develop practical uses. This must change.”

According to IMechE, over 7,500 graphene-based patents had been filed worldwide by the beginning of this year.

However, only 54 were from the UK, or less than 1%.

In comparison, over 2,200 are held by China and 1,754 by South Korea. The Korean company Samsung alone hold 407 graphene-based patents.

Biomedicine, electronics and composites are all fields where graphene is expected to have a great impact.

IMechE has called for the UK government and industry to work more collaboratively with academia to develop a coherent strategy for the exploitation of graphene in order to reap economic benefits.

Dr Meese urged industry to take the lead in making this happen and said: “The graphene community has to agree on a timescale for commercialisation now and develop a clear road map for ongoing research and development.

“The UK must also establish how it intends to compete in terms of market share and mass production.

“If these issues are not addressed soon, the UK could miss out on the limitless potential of the material it has spent so long developing.”

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has called on industry to:

  • Establish collaborative groups to enable innovation and application to develop simultaneously, while creating a taskforce to focus on mass production methods
  • Develop the graphene supply chain along with a coherent strategy for SMEs to get graphene-based technology to market and protect UK intellectual property
  • Create a robust strategy for identifying viable applications and engage investors in education and training programmes to reduce investment risk.

Additionally, it says government must:

  • Address the potential skills shortage and urge the Catapults to continue to assist SMEs in developing technical demonstrators to show graphene’s viability
  • Establish a robust public engagement strategy for ‘emerging technologies’.

Graphene is the thinnest and – purportedly – the strongest material ever created. It is just 0.33nm thick, almost a million times thinner than a human hair, harder than diamond and about 300 times harder than steel.