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Graphene: the 2D revolution

November 20
14:00 2019

Graphene is a disruptive technology; one that could open up new markets and even replace existing technologies or materials. It is when graphene is used both to improve an existing material and in a transformational capacity that its true potential can be realised.

First isolated at The University of Manchester in 2004 by Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov, graphene is the world’s first two-dimensional (2D) material, and has the potential to make a significant impact in a range of industries from transport, agriculture, construction and healthcare.

Graphene has huge potential to support innovation in India’s dynamic and fast developing economy. India, is in fact, the world’s fourth-largest producer of graphite, the bulk material which in a two-dimensional format creates graphene.

Graphene’s love affair with water

Professor Rahul Nair, a Professor of Materials Physics at the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at The University of Manchester is tackling one of the world’s grand challenges- water scarcity. Makingglobal headlines, it is now possible to make saltwater drinkable.

“Graphene-oxide membranes have attracted considerable attention as promising candidates for new filtration technologies,” says Professor Nair.

The findings, first published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, demonstrated the real-world potential of using a graphene-oxide membrane as a sieve to filter salt from water cleanly and cheaply.

He continued:“The health benefits of this could be huge for those who need it most. It has been reported that around 100 million people across India are on the front lines of a nationwide water crisis.

“As the effects of climate change continue to reduce modern city’s water supplies, governments around the globe are investing in desalination technologies.”

Collaboration is key

But it’s not just academics who’ve marvelled at this wonderful 2D material. The stories of its potential applications have attracted Lifesaver, a UK-based manufacturer of portable and reusable water filtration systems. Currently working in partnership with Professor Nair’s team, they are focusing on developing graphene technology that can be used for enhanced water filtration.

The goal is to createa cutting-edge product capable of eliminating an even wider range of hazardous contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, certain chemicals and potentially radioactive materials thatcan’tcurrently be removed by its existing high performance filtration process.

Professor Nair, concluded: “The University of Manchester is the world-leading centre for graphene membrane development and LifeSaver has the expertise in making a portable water filter. This is a great example of a collaborative project where we are trying to combine two independently developed technologies into one, to enhance the quality and availability of drinking water for those who need it most.”

Manchester’s world-class status as not only the birthplace of graphene, but also the centre of its international commercialisation, reinforced by more than £120m of investment to establish the NGIand the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC).

From lab to the marketplace

University alumnus and GEIC Application Specialist, Dr Arun Prakash Aranga Raju,is helping tobridgethe gap between industry and academia by developing graphene-enhanced polymer composites.

Dr Raju works with industry to formulate new ideas to improve their product using graphene. This expertise is crucial in understanding how the effect of adding graphene to polymers alters its properties and how it can translate into what the industry needs.

“With their critical mass in graphene research and centres of excellence, Manchester could help Indian industries gain confidence in exploring the use of graphene and 2D materials for their products via rapid development, de-risking and validation of the prototypes,” says Dr Raju.

Originally from Coimbatore, which is often referred to as the ‘Manchester of South India’ due to the importance of the textile industry in both cities, it feels fitting that Dr Raju would choose Manchester as a place to study and work.

Dr Raju concluded: “The University offered me exactly what I was looking for: renowned professors, world-class research facilities and high graduate employability too.”

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