In conversation with James Baker
Ahead of the American Graphene Summit in May. Adrian Nixon, Editor of the Nixene Journal sat down with James Baker, CEO Graphene@Manchester on why America should explore the potential of graphene.
If you want to find out why graphene is important then James Baker is one of the best placed people to ask.
James Baker is the CEO of Graphene@Manchester, the organisation that includes the National Graphene Institute (NGI) and the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC – pronounced like ‘geek’) Both are based at The University of Manchester in the UK.
We meet at the new GEIC, a hive of purposeful activity and begin with a challenging question…
Why should the USA care about graphene?
Graphene is a novel material on which a whole new industry is being based. It has the ability to create value, attract inward investment and build manufacturing jobs of the future for those that embrace the technology at a national level.
This is a fast-evolving area. Graphene is just one of a family of two-dimensional (2D) materials with vast potential. We are already thinking in terms of ‘graphenes’ as a new advanced materials agenda.
Europe and China have recognised the potential and are investing billions of dollars in the technology. Looking at the USA we see good work being done on graphenes by individual organisations, however there is less coordinated focus compared with other parts of the world and America risks falling behind its peers.
Can America catch up with the rest of the world?
The good news is that while America has arguably been late to graphenes there is still time to capitalise on the promise of these advanced materials. The emerging markets are so big there is room to cooperate, collaborate and benefit from progress in other countries.
The special relationship between the UK and USA is a natural place to start. The global standards for graphenes are evolving and new techniques for measurement are needed for industry. There is some cooperation between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the UK. Encouraging connections between these institutes and industry will provide firm foundations for value growth.
Funding from the UK and EU government supported by the Graphene Flagship and private investment has created the NGI and GEIC in Manchester. The GEIC is one component of the Graphene City vision from The University of Manchester that aims to create a thriving knowledge economy based around graphene and other 2D materials. It is part of a scientific and technological ecosystem together with the NGI and the new Henry Royce Institute, a national institute for advanced materials also based in Manchester.
The Graphene City concept sounds compelling, how does it work?
There is nowhere else in the world with such a concentration of graphene expertise combined with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment.
Because we have this focus the following key elements can be done faster than before:
- We can bring together the right people and organisations
- Supply Chain:
- Connecting the organisations in a coherent sequence so that the products of the future can be created, manufactured and delivered to market – profitable
- This is often overlooked; the network of trusted relationships is the oil in the gears of any new industry. We proactively foster these relationships in ways that individual start-up businesses find very hard to do by themselves
How does this link with innovation?
We have a balanced approach to innovation, building on the principles of the Chesbrough open-innovation model.
Innovation models can be thought of as a continuum:
At one end there is closed innovation where the business owns all the secrets. You continually strive to keep all the brains working inside the organisation.
At the other end there is the open innovation model where the organisation has few boundaries and there are no secrets. The brains are all out-there and work for the public good.
We favour a balanced approach between the open and closed models. The philosophy is not to apologise for being commercially focussed. This is how sustainable businesses work. We also encourage businesses to think deeply about what they consider core and non-core. Thinking like this they can leverage the best brains inside and outside of the organisation. This means the profit motive can operate in the context of the public good and innovation is faster.
When graphene businesses get this right, they create well designed porous boundaries that maintain commercial secrets while collaborating intelligently with other members of the ecosystem.
The purpose of this activity is to accelerate the industrial commercialisation of graphene and 2D technologies in a scaleable way. This is how the jobs of the future and associated value will be created.
These foundations are impressive, what will the graphenes do for us?
The graphenes are multifunctional materials. This means they create multiple benefits in multiple industries.
Here are a few examples based on proven applications:
Adding a small amount of graphene to cement makes concrete that is 30% stronger. This means walls, roads and buildings can be made more efficiently with less cost and improved environmental impact
This year, a successful trial in Italy found that adding graphene to asphalt improves the wear resistance by over 200% and will extend the service life of roads.
Graphene enhanced composites are stronger for the same mass of material.
This ‘Lightweighting’ means less material can be used and the aircraft range increased without compromising the structural integrity.
A graphene skinned aircraft named ‘Juno’, was unveiled in 2016 at the Farnborough International Airshow.
In 2019 mass market cars are being sold in the USA with graphene composites
These are making cars quieter, with stronger more heat resistant components.
This is just a small fraction of the graphene advanced materials you can use right now.
The pace of change in this emerging industry is astonishing, even to those of us on the inside. Whole industries of the future are being based on the graphenes and these will play a key role in generating economic benefits to those that embrace this exciting advanced materials agenda.
James Baker in conversation with Adrian Nixon, Editor of the Nixene Journal. May 2019
James will be presenting at the American Graphene Summit on Capitol Hill. More information can be found below: