Sailing on international waters
An overview of our most successful collaborations from the Graphene Flagship with researchers in China, Korea and Japan
The Graphene Flagship brings graphene and layered materials out of the lab and into commercial applications. Because we’re funded by the European Commission, we want to secure a major role for Europe in the technological revolution, catalysing the transformation to a more sustainable future through research, innovation and collaboration. And it’s precisely this collaborative spirit that motivates our exploration beyond our continent. Since the kick-off of the project in 2013, we have established strong partnerships with research teams in Asia, Australia and the US, among others. These efforts to venture and sail across oceans has generated innovative outcomes, and further accelerated the technology readiness level of graphene-based solutions.
The success of our international partnership is only possible through multidisciplinary collaborations across institutions, coordinated by Graphene Flagship partner European Science Foundation, in France. Beyond that, many international institutions around the world contribute to making this initiative possible, including key government-funded agencies and leading industrial companies.
Our international Graphene Flagship workshops are probably the most important part of these international collaborations. Organised jointly between researchers in Europe and abroad, the workshops foster the exchange of exciting experiences and interesting ideas, all related to the latest advances in the field of graphene and layered materials. After many prosperous years of in-person events, visiting cities like Sydney, Dresden, Shanghai, San Sebastian, Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Helsinki and Copenhagen, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a transition to online conferences. Despite the challenges posed by very different time zones, the Graphene Flagship and its international collaborators managed very well during the past few years, co-hosting several meetings that connected hundreds of people. Some argue that, compared to conventional conferences, the current online alternatives hinder collaboration. However, the reality is remote conferences enhance diversity, accessibility and flexibility – everybody is welcome, wherever they connect from. Graphene Week 2021 demonstrated the huge potential of organising scientific events online; our international workshops showcased similar accomplishments.
In 2021, we celebrated three international workshops, in collaboration with researchers in Korea, Japan and China. The first one took place on 29 September, closely following the Graphene Flagship annual conference. Inaugurated by programme chair Paolo Samori, from Graphene Flagship partner the University of Strasbourg, France, this 6th EU-Korea workshop focused on the production of graphene and layered materials, as well as methods to better tune and characterise their properties. Sustainability was ever-present in the discussions, which covered graphene inks for printed, paper-based circuitry and electronics and highly stable graphene oxide solutions for efficient batteries and supercapacitors, among other things. Some of these applications are already transferred into commercial products thanks to the collaboration with Korean companies. Maybe because of the pandemic, and the growing needs in biomedical testing, the conversation covered new devices for portable, point-of-care sensors based on graphene and layered materials. Beyond properties like flexibility, sensitivity and high conductivity, graphene provides an attractive alternative in terms of cost – as demonstrated by the bacterial detectors developed by Graphene Flagship spin-off Graphenica Lab, based in Spain. In previous in-person workshops, researchers identified biochemical sensing as an important topic to explore; surely these interesting discussions will continue during the next meet-up. Furthermore, the international team will keep exploring other opportunities in the field of energy generation and storage, two technologies where graphene could provide enhanced performance, paving the way to more sustainable solutions to the current climate crisis.
Barely a month later, the 5th EU-Japan workshop took place. Workshop chair Taiichi Otsuji, from Tohoku University, in Japan, gave the opening address, which was followed by ten invited talks by researchers in both academia and industry. The event covered electronics, photonics, spintronics and more – exploring the possibilities of graphene and layered materials in these fields. According to our own Graphene Flagship roadmapping efforts, these applications lay distant in our nautical charts, however their outcomes will certainly revolutionise telecommunications with unprecedented speeds, bandwidths and performances. Nowadays, our digital devices account for approximately 2% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, a trend that keeps growing with the popularity of on-demand content, cloud storage and cryptocurrencies. Graphene could contribute to cutting carbon emissions in this sector, enabling better solutions for clean energy generation and storage, but especially providing more efficient electronics. Therefore, the Graphene Flagship and its recently launched 2D Experimental Pilot Line focus on low-cost, scalable integrated circuits to provide innovative telecommunication solutions that operate at high data rates and optimal performance with minimal energy requirements, thus reducing the environmental impact. Besides, the EU-Japan collaboration explored the continuation of exchange programmes between the two regions, which proved extremely effective in the past. On top of the existing Graphene Flagship mobility grants, Japanese researchers announced new contributions to these activities through a new grant by the JSPS – “Science of 2.5 Dimensional Materials” – funded until 2026. After almost three years without in-person gatherings, the group expects to meet again soon.
Finally, the year closed with a successful online event between researchers in the EU and China, attended by over 50 people. Xinliang Feng, the programme chair from Graphene Flagship partner TU Dresden, Germany, highlighted the great value of early career researchers to scientific progress and innovation. Young sailors in the vast graphene field plant the seeds to exciting future collaborations; much like Feng himself when he moved from Shanghai to Germany to start his doctoral studies. Among other topics, the discussions turned around the production of high-quality graphene, as well as other layered materials, such as molybdenum disulfide and manganese bismuth telluride. The latter is a revolutionary quantum material with extraordinary properties in power generation and sustainable refrigeration – however some challenges lay ahead in terms of production and stability, which were addressed during the workshop. Other innovative materials include the amorphous versions of graphene and boron nitride, which have led to many commercial applications from industrial leaders like Samsung and LG. In addition to fundamental research, the participants also exchanged opinions about applicability, which focused mostly on the development of new electronic devices. For example, layered materials could provide alternatives to silicon in transistors, modulators and gate insulators. Moreover, combining layered materials like ingredients in a sandwich yields heterostructures with new properties and possibilities. In this field, transistors with sheets of indium selenide provide high performance and high mobility, both ideal properties for the development of flash memory cells. The collaborations will continue to further enhance microscopy and nano-imaging techniques, to better characterise these new materials and to overcome the current challenges in the production and growth of large-area substrates. Everyone seems excited by the prospects ahead and looks forward to meeting again in 2022.
Whether it happens in-person or online, the Graphene Flagship will keep strengthening international collaborations in the near future, supporting workshops, exchange programmes and cross-country cooperation. Diversity is paramount to the advancement of science. Collaborative networks support science, increasing opportunities and accelerating the path to market applications.