The Graphene Week Innovation Forums brought industrial and commercial graphene research to the forefront, highlighting key challenges and successes in the journey from lab to the factory floor.
As the Graphene Flagship continues its journey, more and more commercial opportunities for graphene are identified. To reflect this, the Innovation Forums at Graphene Week in Athens were an opportunity to focus on industrial and commercial research into GRMs, with speakers from industry, national laboratories and technology transfer.
The three Innovation Forums, held on the first three days of Graphene Week, focused on different aspects of research commercialisation, including roadmapping, harvesting from research and standardisation. Industry speakers from a range of fields gave delegates the chance to hear the industry perspective on the current status and outlines for future technology development.
The Graphene Flagship dedicates considerable effort to identifying the current status of GRM research and outlining roadmaps for future research and technology development. A new Technology and Innovation Roadmap has been created in partnership between the Graphene Flagship and industry partners encompassing the value chain of a range of different application fields.
Thomas Reiss (Fraunhofer ISI, Germany) introduced the roadmap to the wider graphene community at the Innovation Forum. “The roadmap should provide guidance in the field of graphene and other related materials towards different market applications. It should help to merge the demand and the interest of the market side with the technological and scientific perspectives provided by the research communities,” he said.
“I have been approached by a number of company representatives who have heard of this Roadmap for the first time and though there might be some interesting features and they are interested in getting more information. Maybe some of them will also think of starting specific collaborations with some of the stakeholders,” he added.
Harvesting from Research
The Graphene Flagship’s aim to take GRM research out of the laboratories and into commercial technologies means that innovation and technology transfer are of key importance to Flagship partners. Several examples of successfully translating laboratory achievements into spin-out companies were presented across the Innovation Forums, providing excellent examples and inspiration to researchers considering taking their ideas to market.
Identifying a market need is the first step in successful innovation. Emberion (Finland), a spin-out from Nokia R&D, produces integrated photodetector systems based on graphene’s unique properties. “We have been working with customers from the very beginning. It’s important that one has a very clear value proposition for one's customer. It’s crucial that you really understand their needs and what is really important to them,” said Tapani Ryhänen, Emberion CEO.
Ryhänen also emphasised the need for thorough planning and analysis when starting out with a commercial proposition: “You need to be very prepared when you start this type of new adventure. You need to really understand, what is the first product that you want to work for? And naturally, also convince your investors to believe in you; that means having the team, having the product, having clear ideas of who can be your customers.”
Other opportunities come from identifying potential new sources and ways of reducing costs for existing markets. Burcu Saner Okan (Sabanci University, Turkey) presented work on obtaining recycled graphene from alternative sources – pyrolysis of car tires. Carbon makes up 40% of the material produced by this pyrolysis process; however, impurities are a big barrier to utilising this carbon in further applications. A spin-out company, Nanografen, has been set up to commercialise this carbon source based on research conducted at Sabanci University. “We developed a technique to improve the quality of the carbon material and remove the impurities. We can produce graphene-like structures with high surface area in a pilot production process with a capacity of about 500 kg per month,” she said.
A key aim of the Innovation Forums is to bring together researchers from different backgrounds to share ideas and collaborate to solve common issues. Alvaro Jara (Airbus, Spain), who presented at the Innovation Forum was also looking out for new developments to promote the use of graphene in the aviation industry. “We bring to the company anything that can add value into the company. It is very important, because we get to meet, and to know, who is the first in class for every part. And we believe that the Flagship has great potential in the development of graphene for the future,” he said.
Andrea Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship, and Chair of its Management Panel, added "The innovation forum is a fantastic window to the ever increasing industrial applications of graphene and related materials. It is undeniable that these novel materials are making their way towards the factory floor, already mid-way through the first 10 year journey of the Graphene Flagship. An ever more focussed roadmap will serve to guide future innovation directions."