European opportunities for research and innovation with layered materials
This whitepaper was written by Graphene Flagship industrial partners, who recommend continued coherent support for research and innovation in layered materials under Horizon Europe.
Technologies based on layered and two-dimensional materials such as graphene are on the verge of a broad industrial revolution in branches as diverse as automotive and aviation, electronics, data and telecommunications, energy, composite materials and biomedicine. Europe is in an excellent position to seize the opportunities offered by them, and as representatives of European industries, we strongly recommend continued coherent support for research and innovation in layered materials under Horizon Europe.
As we approach the start of Horizon Europe, three main challenges lie ahead of us:
(i) Graphene- based technologies are now reaching the tipping point for mass exploitation and we need to ensure that Europe reaps the rewards of its early investment;
(ii) Thousands of new layered materials have been identified in the last few years and need to be explored. Their fundamental science has to be understood, and their numerous combinations must be addressed with conceptually new approaches;
(iii) The most promising new layered materials have to be taken to the level of maturity we have reached with graphene, ready to create further innovation and new technologies.
It is of great importance that these activities be continued under Horizon Europe so that Europe can maintain the lead that we have established and capitalize upon the investments made during Horizon 2020.
The European Union launched the Graphene Flagship in 2013 as an ambitious program to take graphene and related materials (GRMs) from research laboratories to commercial applications that create impact through new products and new employment and investment opportunities, boosting economic growth in Europe. The Graphene Flagship now comprises over 240 organisations in 33 EU member states and associated countries, developing disruptive technologies based on GRMs.
Since its launch, the Graphene Flagship has been instrumental in creating a European industrial ecosystem that develops applications of GRMs. The industrial flagship family today includes well over
100 companies, working together with academic partners in fields ranging from automotive and aviation to electronics, energy, composites and biomedicine. The proportion of companies has grown from 15% at the launch of the GF to ~50% in 2020, demonstrating the success of the Flagship concept.
The accelerating pace of industrialization is clearly demonstrated by the Graphene Flagship's spearhead program, launched in 2018 and substantially strengthened in 2020, which targets specific market-motivated industrial applications. The latest spearhead call resulted in 46 proposals involving 158 organisations. A list of the newly launched spearheads and their leaders is given in the table below. This is a very concrete indication of the breadth of the industrial impact of GRMs.
Spearhead projects and their leaders, 2020-2023:
|Water filters (Medica SpA)
|Infrared imager (Emberion Oy)
|Tandem solar cells (U Rome)
|Car dashboard (FIAT)
|Automotive vision system (ICFO)
|Aircraft cabin filter system (Lufthansa Technik)
|Circuit breaker (ABB)
|Batteries for automotive (Varta)
|Industrial risk assessment (Temas AG)
|Optical transmitter/ receiver (Nokia)
|Aircraft ice protection system (Airbus)
Through the Graphene Flagship, Europe has established itself as the global leader on technologies based on graphene and other two-dimensional and layered materials. The flagship has helped GRM technologies to cross the valley of death, creating new successful companies and unlocking the European innovation potential in an unprecedented way.
Broad economic and societal impact
In 2018 Graphene Flagship partners showed that over 1,800 layered materials can potentially be exfoliated down to a single layer. This started a worldwide rush for their investigation and exploitation. Graphene is just the tip of the tip of a very large iceberg that we are beginning to unveil! These new materials exhibit complementary properties to those of graphene, and quite different from those of their bulk counterparts. They can also be stacked one with the other at different angles, and with different compositions, paving the way to virtually infinite combinations of materials on demand, and to the exploration of new physics and technology. These can enable the European industries to develop new products and workflows and solve some of the environmental crises our society faces today.
In applied research, many areas reach industrial maturity only with a long-term support. One such area is the biomedical field, where GRM-based technologies show great promise. For example, neural interfaces with graphene electrodes can be used to monitor brain activity and to stimulate the brain electrically, with superior performance compared to other technologies. This paves the way to applications such as retinal implants that allow blind patients to recover vision, techniques to reduce symptoms caused by Parkinson's disease or epilepsy, and to guide complicated surgical treatment of aggressive brain cancer (glioblastoma). These new biomedical devices address increasingly important medical needs in the context of an aging society, bringing science and biomedical innovation to the homes of Europeans. On the longer scale, GRMs can be used as platforms for bioelectronics and drug delivery to treat cardiovascular diseases and cancer. The societal impact of this research is substantial and requires long-term support and commitment, to navigate the clinical trials and approval processes.
In (opto-)electronics, photonics and sensors, GRM-based systems have already demonstrated performances far outperforming the commercial state of the art, e.g. photonic switches much faster and with lower power consumption than existing technologies, or photodetectors with hyperspectral range for applications such as autonomous driving where fast data exchange is a critical requisite for safe operation. Applications of GRMs in light detection and ranging, security, ultrasensitive physical and chemical sensors for industrial, environmental and medical technologies are beginning to emerge and offer great promise. These technologies must be developed to achieve full industrial impact as key enablers in 5G and 6G communications, as well as ubiquitous sensor networks.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems are the fastest growing consumers of electricity worldwide, with over 15% of the global carbon footprint. GRMs enable low-power semiconductor electronics through band gap engineering; in addition, GRMs can be used to create novel devices for neuromorphic computing, which present another, architectural route to reduce energy consumption. These future, disruptive, GRM-enabled technologies represent an outstanding opportunity for EU industries to boost their market share and secure the independence of the EU's communications infrastructure from other countries.
Composite materials are some of the most versatile and mature applications for GRMs. Multifunctional composites exploiting the unique properties of GRMs can be utilized in structures that are not just lighter and stronger, but at the same time electrically and thermally conducting. This enables new functionalities such as self-monitoring and self-healing (concrete, components for automotive and aerospace, batteries), allowing replacement of metals in many applications and yielding up to 70% weight reduction. Graphene sponges can be used to filter air and treat oil spills, and we expect that they will find several more uses, thanks to their large surface area in combination with unique thermal properties.
Applications where GRM coatings provide chemical or mechanical protection have great industrial potential, ranging from anticorrosion to non-toxic prevention of biofouling and biofilm formation. Despite their ultimate thinness, GRMs can be made completely impermeable. This forms the basis for a number of applications, such as cleaning wastewater and purifying drinking water, as well as filtering and gas separation. GRMs will reduce the EU's reliance on rare materials and allow for the development of environmentally friendly solutions. GRMs also offer improved processability in material production, promoting new design solutions for components and products.
GRM-based products contribute to sustainable technologies, such as electromobility, by enabling more effective energy storage in advanced batteries (e.g., lithium-sulfur, lithium/sodium-air) and fuel cells. A combination of these energy-focused devices with power-focused supercapacitors will impact short- and medium-range logistics in buildings (elevators), warehouses (trucks), and cities.
All these applications require thorough understanding of health and environmental (H&E) impacts, as well as sustainability and life cycle. The training of experts in biological and environmental safety of GRM development and production will allow to develop further the concept of GRMs 'safe-by- design', as well as create the new generation of engineers with expertise in GRMs use, highly sought after by industry.
Thanks to the Graphene Flagship, Europe is in an excellent position to seize the opportunities of disruptive technologies based on layered materials. A coherent implementation of the future activities is ideal to strengthen and widen the relevant European supply and value chains, linking several industrial branches and providing advantages of scale, which is unique globally. The synergies afforded by a coherent project allow more of Europe's investment in GRM innovation to be applied to results. Continued support from the EC and the Member States during Horizon Europe will allow the EU to remain a global leader in GRM science and technology and capitalize upon the investments made during Horizon 2020.
Representatives of European industries
Airbus Central R&T
Airbus Operations SL
Avanzare Innovacion Tecnologica SL
Barnices y Pinturas Modernas S.A
Cambridge Raman Imaging Limited
Costruzioni Meccaniche Luigi Bandera
Evonik Creavis GmbH
Gesellschaft fur Angewandte Mikro und Optoelektronik mit Beschrankter haftung AMO GmbH
Greatcell Solar Italia SRL
Grupo Antolin-Ingenieria SA
Instituto de Tecnologias Emergentes del la Rioja
Italcementi Fabbriche Riunite Cemento SPA
MetrOhm DropSens SL
Naturality Research & Development
Nokia Bell Labs France
Nokia Solutions and Networks GmbH & Co
Nu Quantum Ltd.
Payper Technologies Ltd.
Printed Electronics Limited
Research and Development of Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology Nano Techlab Ltd
Sixonia Tech GmbH
Stiftelsen Chalmers Industriteknik
Tetra Pak Packaging Solutions S.p.a
Thales Research and Technology France