Graphene is sustainability
On World Environment Day, we review how the Graphene Flagship project contributes to several UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The Graphene Flagship delivers concrete opportunities for innovation to address some of the major societal challenges in Europe.
However, this effort would be meaningless without focusing heavily on sustainable development. The Graphene Flagship contributes to several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on several different fronts and plays a role in global climate change mitigation.
SDG #3 Good Health and Wellbeing
Miniaturised sensors, implants, drug delivery systems and antimicrobial coatings are all domains where graphene can play an important role. The Graphene Flagship is therefore highly involved in exploiting graphene and layered materials for biomedical applications. To cite some examples, Graphene Flagship Associate Member Grapheal, a spin-off from CNRS-Grenoble (France), has developed a pioneering wearable and transparent graphene-based patch for the remote monitoring of chronic wounds. Another Graphene Flagship Associate Member, Atomic Mechanics, UK, devised an electronic skin prototype for applications including robotic surgery. Antonios Oikonomou, Graphene Flagship Business Developer for Flexible and Wearable Technologies, emphasises that “the booming wearables industry is eagerly looking to increase the fidelity and functionality of its offerings." Moreover, the Graphene Flagship has a dedicated Work Package to study the possible effects of graphene and layered materials on health and the environment. By analysing the impact on bacteria, plants, animals and humans, researchers explore the biodegradability of these new materials and propose strategies to improve it.
SDG #4 Quality Education
The Graphene Flagship engages with graduate students all over Europe and organises annual schools for early career researchers. In 2019, the Graphene Study event in Obergurgl, Austria, covered a broad range of topics: from the fundamental science of graphene and layered materials, to their applications in electronics, spintronics and optoelectronics. During these dedicated workshops, the ratio between students and senior researchers is almost one-to-one, creating a fantastic environment that promotes direct conversations between young, promising scientists and established researchers in the field.
SDG #5 Gender Equality
Women in Graphene is a Graphene Flagship initiative to support women in all stages of their careers, encouraging networking and creating a more welcoming, gender-diverse community. Scheduled over the 2019 International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the third Women in Graphene career day was held in Manchester, UK, on 11–12 February 2019. Moreover, as in previous years, Graphene Week 2019 in Helsinki hosted a dedicated Women in Graphene session where established graphene researchers shared their experiences working up the career ladder. On top of that, in the next phase of the Graphene Flagship project, the Women in Graphene project will broaden its horizons to become a more inclusive programme: ‘Diversity in Graphene’, aiming to welcome a wider and even more diverse audience.
SDG #6 Clean Water and Sanitation
SDG #7 Affordable and Clean Energy
In 2019, a collaboration between Italian Graphene Flagship partners Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), University of Rome Tor Vergata and BeDimensional yielded a graphene-based ink that can stabilise perovskite solar cells. “Thanks to this research, we have overcome a major hurdle that stood in the way of us adopting this new technology,” says Emanuel Kymakis, Graphene Flagship Work Package Deputy Leader for Energy Generation. In terms of energy storage, researchers are investigating how graphene and layered materials can boost the performance of batteries and supercapacitors. “Using graphene, we have been able to increase the power of supercapacitors by a factor of five,” said Paolo Bondavalli, from Graphene Flagship partner Thales Research and Technology.
SDG #8 and #9 - Decent Work and Economic Growth - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure.
The Graphene Flagship aims to bring graphene and layered materials out of academic laboratories and into society in the form of new products, investments and employment opportunities. To do this, the Graphene Flagship attracts investment and catalyses the development of new commercial enterprises.
For example, InBrain Neuroelectronics, a new spin-off company from ICN2 in Spain, developed graphene-enabled retinal implants that can provide artificial vision to patients with retinal degeneration, attracting significant investment from an external funder. For further informationon successful Graphene Flagship spin-offs, read 'Graphene Flagship Means Business'.
SDG #11 and #13 - Sustainable Cities and Communities - Climate action.
Graphene can be incorporated into existing pollution removal and monitoring technologies to significantly improve their performance, such as in the removal of pollutant gases like nitrogen oxides from the atmosphere. In 2019, nine Graphene Flagship partners developed a graphene-titania photocatalyst that degrades up to 70% more atmospheric nitrogen oxides than standard titania nanoparticles in tests on real pollutants.
“We answered the Graphene Flagship’s call and decided to couple graphene with the most-used photocatalyst, titania, to boost its photocatalytic action,” comments Marco Goisis, research coordinator at Graphene Flagship partner Italcementi. In addition, a further five Graphene Flagship partners created a low-cost, low-energy-consuming NO2 sensor that measures the level of this gas in real-time and could help to visualise pollution in urban areas. NO2 gas is produced by burning fossil fuels, and it can cause airway inflammation, leading to breathing problems and even asthma attacks. For this reason, the European Union has introduced legislation to regulate the amount of NO2 in the air. The Graphene Flagship’s new NO2 sensor could prove to be a crucial development.
SDG #12 Responsible Consumption and Production
Graphene has the potential to enhance the performance of different materials and alleviate their carbon footprint. For example, graphene composites can be used to make lighter packaging, reducing costs and energy consumption. EU-based packaging and processing company Tetra Pak joined the Graphene Flagship in 2019 as a new Associate Member, with the goal of enabling new functionalities and increasing recyclability.
SDG #17 Partnerships for the Goals
The Graphene Flagship nourishes partnerships and collaborations between its nearly 150 academic and industrial partners, and within its extensive network of Associate Members, active in Europe and the global scene. For more information on the importance and impact of collaborations enabled by the Graphene Flagship, you may read this article.