In an exciting collaborative project, researchers from Graphene Flagship partner Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), Italy and Italian luxury design company Momodesign have produced a motorcycle helmet that includes graphene technology. A graphene coating that allows better distribution of impact force makes the helmet less susceptible to damage compared to helmets without graphene, even in high temperature conditions. The result is a helmet that improves thermal comfort and safety.
Marco Cattaneo, president of Momodesign states “I started to read publications about graphene with curiosity and interest,” said Cattaneo, who was also developing ideas for using graphene technologies to “improve products in which safety is the most important aspect.” Working together was a natural process. “We needed just 5 minutes to get in sync with Marco,” said Vittorio Pellegrini, Director of the Graphene Labs at IIT. “In the following days we set out the roadmap of our collaboration and after one month we started to work in the labs.” Pellegrini is also leader of the Energy Storage Work Package of the Graphene Flagship and chair of its executive board.
The Graphene Flagship is working to bring a wide range of graphene-based technologies to marketable applications. Kari Hjelt is the leader of the Innovation Work Package, and a member of the Flagship’s executive board. Of this collaboration, he said “The Graphene Labs at IIT collaboration with Momodesign is a prime example of bringing the latest graphene-based technologies from laboratory to industry applications. In its quest to create economic growth and technological innovations, the Graphene Flagship aims to foster agile cooperation projects with industry stakeholders.”
The Graphene Labs at IIT were established in 2014 as a world-class research centre in graphene and related materials. Innovation and industrial collaboration are core principles, and the Graphene Labs provide a shared facility for Italian manufacturing companies with interest in graphene. “We have tens of industrial collaborations and we receive requests from European companies that wish to develop graphene-based products every day,” added Pellegrini. “These activities are essential to test the benefits of graphene in commercial products, helping us to bring graphene technology from the laboratory to the market.” A spin-out company, Bedimensional, enables Graphene Labs to support expansion of graphene technology into the market.
From Lab to Fab
As a partner of the Graphene Flagship, Graphene Labs are engaged in several of the Flagship’s key research areas, including energy, composites, optoelectronics and biotechnology applications of graphene. Without the support of the Graphene Flagship the design of the graphene helmet – from concept to production – would not have been possible in such a short period of time. The Graphene Flagship funding enabled an accelerated transition from lab to fab.
Momodesign is a luxury lifestyle design company specialising in motorcycle helmets and luxury accessories such as sunglasses and watches with a design strongly influenced by their Italian racing heritage. In addition to its own product lines, Momodesign has a strong history of collaborative work with other companies across many different areas, focusing on innovation and new technologies. The collaboration with Graphene Labs continues this tradition. “This is our formula: to bring together invention and innovation, functionality and beauty in order to create a truly unique product,” said Cattaneo. “Research has been always the true soul of the company.”
Motorcycle helmets are constructed of two parts – a solid exterior shell, and a shock-absorbing polystyrene or foam inner part. In the new helmet, graphene is incorporated into the exterior shell as a coating, and provides a protective effect to the inner materials of the helmet. Pellegrini describes this effect as a graphene shelter: the excellent heat-conductive properties of the graphene dissipate heat quickly across the helmet, and protect the inner materials from degradation caused by heat.
An initial run of 3000 helmets have been produced for sale in specialty markets and major motoring showrooms. The helmets are fabricated in a manufacturing plant in northern Italy, where the graphene-coating procedure has been integrated directly into the existing production line. “We had to work very hard on each step of this process,” said Pellegrini, “taking into account costs and delays in production due to the additional coating procedure, but finally we developed a process fully compatible with that used by Momodesign for their standard helmets.” The manufacturing process starts with the production of a graphene powder with few- and multi-layer graphene flakes. This powder is subsequently mixed into a solution and then spray-coated on the exterior shell of the helmets.
The graphene shelter technology is the first target of the collaboration between Graphene Labs and Momodesign. “Our aims for the future are to continue evolving as a company with the development of other graphene helmets,” said Cattaneo. As a next step, the researchers are now working to add graphene into the inner plastic materials of the helmet. In this way, they aim to achieve the same level of safety with a thinner helmet and improve comfort for the wearer.
Andrea Ferrari, Chair of the Graphene Flagship Management Panel and the Flagship’s Science and Technology Officer stated: "This is an excellent example of what is at the core of the Graphene Flagship mission: to take graphene, related layered materials and hybrids from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionize multiple industries, with a manifold return on the European investment, both in terms of technological innovation and economic exploitation. Over the next few years we will see more and more products enabled by graphene reaching the market, thanks to the support of the Graphene Flagship".