Composites for a greener future
Ali Shaygan Nia, Business Developer at the Graphene Flagship, sets out his vision for graphene-enabled composites.
Composite materials have been known since ancient times. Mudbricks, made from a mixture of mud, water and straw date as far back as 9000 BC. Today’s composites are much more sophisticated, but how can they support Europe’s green ambitions?
Composites and coatings are one of the most versatile areas of graphene technology. The Graphene Flagship’s research projects on composites and coatings show great promise, and their innovative applications could help solve some of Europe’s most pressing environmental challenges.
Lighter cars = less fuel = fewer emissions
In the 1970s, the comp of a car was littered mostly with metal components. Now, you will see plastic and, in the future, these plastics will be replaced by graphene-based composites. Bolstering the unique properties of graphene, these components are even lighter, stronger, and better at conducting heat or electricity than traditional alternatives.
A lighter car is a faster car, but most importantly it’s a more energy efficient one.
A study carried out by the International Transport Forum (ITF) shows that reducing the fleet weight of passenger cars from the current 1,380kg to 1,000kg by 2050, carbon emissions could be reduced by 40 per cent. This saving may be instrumental in achieving the EU’s goal to reduce transport emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.
In the Graphene Flagship, a multidisciplinary team of academic researchers, commercial enterprises and industry have already demonstrated the potential of integrating graphene and layered materials into composites for vehicles to make them lighter.
The next step is mass manufacturing. Very soon, composites with graphene and other layered materials will begin to feature in cars and other methods of transport, helping to lower carbon dioxide emissions.
Cleaner water, better health
Aside from reducing carbon emissions, composite materials also have potential for improving human health. The Graphene Flagship Spearhead Project, GRAPHIL is already using graphene-based coatings to create innovative, portable water filters.
The project has developed filters to eliminate toxins and contaminants from household and drinking water, such as pesticides, heavy metals and dangerous pathogens. These microfiltration membranes have an estimated commercialisation date of 2023-2025, and fulfil the need of removing toxins from Europe’s water. The project exists in partnership with leading industries Icon Lifesaver, Medica SpA and Polymem S.A.
Another Graphene Flagship partner Tecnalia, Spain, is working on a project to increase the abundance of drinkable water. Desalination, the removal of salt from seawater and make it useable for human needs, is currently an expensive process. A promising composite coating from Tecnalia that removes 60 per cent of the salt in sea water could paving the way to new irrigation systems and solve global water scarcity.
Into the future
Composites and coatings that use graphene offer a solution to some of the key environmental challenges facing Europe. Whether they present a way to reduce transport emissions or provide cleaner drinking water, these technologies offer great promise for the future.
The next five years will be critical to ensure technologies face the rigorous regulations to ensure they are safe. As the Graphene Flagship enters core three of the project, the organisation is looking for new partners to bring these technologies to market. For more information on the Graphene Flagship and its composites and coatings, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.