Tag Archives: European Union Horizon 2020

SEMANTICS, a major graphene project based in Ireland

A Jan. 28, 2015 news item on Nanowerk profiles SEMANTICS, a major graphene project based in Ireland (Note: A link has been removed),

Graphene is the strongest, most impermeable and conductive material known to man. Graphene sheets are just one atom thick, but 200 times stronger than steel. The European Union is investing heavily in the exploitation of graphene’s unique properties through a number of research initiatives such as the SEMANTICS project running at Trinity College Dublin.

A Dec. 16, 2014 European Commission press release, which originated the news item, provides an overview of the graphene enterprise in Europe,

It is no surprise that graphene, a substance with better electrical and thermal conductivity, mechanical strength and optical purity than any other, is being heralded as the ‘wonder material’ of the 21stcentury, as plastics were in the 20thcentury.

Graphene could be used to create ultra-fast electronic transistors, foldable computer displays and light-emitting diodes. It could increase and improve the efficiency of batteries and solar cells, help strengthen aircraft wings and even revolutionise tissue engineering and drug delivery in the health sector.

It is this huge potential which has convinced the European Commission to commit €1 billion to the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Graphene Flagship project, the largest-ever research initiative funded in the history of the EU. It has a guaranteed €54 million in funding for the first two years with much more expected over the next decade.

Sustained funding for the full duration of the Graphene Flagship project comes from the EU’s Research Framework Programmes, principally from Horizon 2020 (2014-2020).

The aim of the Graphene Flagship project, likened in scale to NASA’s mission to put a man on the moon in the 1960s, or the Human Genome project in the 1990s, is to take graphene and related two-dimensional materials such as silicene (a single layer of silicon atoms) from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionise multiple industries and create economic growth and new jobs in Europe.

The research effort will cover the entire value chain, from materials production to components and system integration. It will help to develop the strong position Europe already has in the field and provide an opportunity for European initiatives to lead in global efforts to fully exploit graphene’s miraculous properties.

Under the EU plan, 126 academics and industry groups from 17 countries will work on 15 individual but connected projects.

The press release then goes on to describe a new project, SEMANTICS,

… this is not the only support being provided by the EU for research into the phenomenal potential of graphene. The SEMANTICS research project, led by Professor Jonathan Coleman at Trinity College Dublin, is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and has already achieved some promising results.

The ERC does not assign funding to particular challenges or objectives, but selects the best scientists with the best ideas on the sole criterion of excellence. By providing complementary types of funding, both to individual scientists to work on their own ideas, and to large-scale consortia to coordinate top-down programmes, the EU is helping to progress towards a better knowledge and exploitation of graphene.

“It is no overestimation to state that graphene is one of the most exciting materials of our lifetime,” Prof. Coleman says. “It has the potential to provide answers to the questions that have so far eluded us. Technology, energy and aviation companies worldwide are racing to discover the full potential of graphene. Our research will be an important element in helping to realise that potential.”

With the help of European Research Council (ERC) Starting and Proof of Concept Grants, Prof. Coleman and his team are researching methods for obtaining single-atom layers of graphene and other layered compounds through exfoliation (peeling off) from the multilayers, followed by deposition on a range of surfaces to prepare films displaying specific behaviour.

“We’re working towards making graphene and other single-atom layers available on an economically viable industrial scale, and making it cheaply,” Prof. Coleman continues.

“At CRANN [Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices at Trinity College Dublin], we are developing nanosheets of graphene and other single-atom materials which can be made in very large quantities,” he adds. “When you put these sheets in plastic, for example, you make the plastic stronger. Not only that – you can massively increase its electrical properties, you can improve its thermal properties and you can make it less permeable to gases. The applications for industry could be endless.”

Prof. Coleman admits that scientists are regularly taken aback by the potential of graphene. “We are continually amazed at what graphene and other single-atom layers can do,” he reveals. “Recently it has been discovered that, when added to glue, graphene can make it more adhesive. Who would have thought that? It’s becoming clear that graphene just makes things a whole lot better,” he concludes.

So far, the project has developed a practical method for producing two-dimensional nanosheets in large quantities. Crucially, these nanosheets are already being used for a range of applications, including the production of reinforced plastics and metals, building super-capacitors and batteries which store energy, making cheap light detectors, and enabling ultra-sensitive position and motion sensors. As the number of application grows, increased demand for these materials is anticipated. In response, the SEMANTICS team has scaled up the production process and is now producing 2D nanosheets at a rate more than 1000 times faster than was possible just a year ago.

I believe that new graphene production process is the ‘blender’ technique featured here in an April 23, 2014 post. There’s also a profile of the ‘blender’ project  in a Dec. 10, 2014 article by Ben Deighton for the European Commission’s Horizon magazine (Horizon 2020 is the European Union’s framework science funding programme). Deighton’s article hosts a video of Jonathan Coleman speaking about nanotechnology, blenders, and more on Dec. 1, 2014 at TEDxBrussels.

The long road to commercializing nanotechnology-enabled products in Europe: the IP Nanoker Project

IP Nanoker, a nanotechnology commercialization project, was a European Union 7th Framework Programme-funded project from 2005 – 2009. So, how does IP Nanoker end up in a June 11, 2014 news item on Nanowerk? The road to commercialization is not only long, it is also winding as this news item points out in an illuminating fashion,

Superior hip, knee and dental implants, a new generation of transparent airplane windows and more durable coatings for automotive engines are just some of the products made possible – and cheaper – by the EU-funded IP NANOKER project. Many of these materials are now heading to market, boosting Europe’s competitiveness and creating jobs.

Launched back in 2005, the four-year project set out to build upon Europe’s expertise and knowledge in nanoceramics and nanocomposites.

Nanocomposites entirely made up of ceramic and metallic nanoscale particles – particles that are usually between 1 and 100 nanometres in size – are a broad new class of engineered materials that combine excellent mechanical performance with critical functionalities such as transparency, biocompatibility, and wear resistance.

These materials offer improvements over conventional materials. For some advanced optical applications – such as windows for aircraft – glass is too brittle. Nanoceramics offer both transparency and toughness, and thanks to IP NANOKER, can now be manufactured at a significantly reduced cost.
Indeed, one of the most important outcomes of IP NANOKER has been the development of new dense nanostructured materials as hard as diamond. The fabrication of these super hard materials require extreme conditions of high temperature and pressure, which is why IP NANOKER project partners developed a customised Spark Plasma Sintering machine.

“This new equipment is the largest in the world (12 metres high, 6 metres wide and 5 metres deep), and features a pressing force up to 400 tonnes and will allow the fabrication of near-net shaped products up to 400mm in diameter”, explains project coordinator Ramon Torrecillas from Spain’s Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).

This is obviously a distilled and simplified version of what occurred but, first, they developed the technology, then they developed a machine that would allow them to manufacture their nanotechnology-enabled materials. It’s unclear as to whether or not the machine was developed during the project years of 2005 – 2009 but the project can trace its impact in other ways (from the March 27, 2014 European Union news release), which originated the news item,

The project promises to have a long-lasting impact. In 2013, some former IP NANOKER partners launched a public-private initiative with the objective of bridging the gap between research and industry and boosting the industrial application of Spark Plasma Sintering in the development of nanostructured multifunctional materials.

Potential new nanomaterial-based products hitting the market soon include ultra-hard cutting and mining tools, tough ceramic armour and mirrors for space telescopes.

“Another positive result arising from IP NANOKER was the launch in 2011 of Nanoker Research, a Spanish spin-off company,” says Prof Torrecillas. “This company was formed by researchers from two of the project partners, CSIC and Cerámica Industrial Montgatina, and currently employs 19 people.”
IP NANOKER was also instrumental in creating the Nanomaterials and Nanotechnology Research Centre (CINN) in Spain, a joint initiative of the CSIC, the University of Oviedo and the Regional Government of Asturias.

As a result of its economic and societal impact, IP NANOKER was selected as project finalist in two European project competitions: Industrial Technologies 2012 and Euronanoforum 2013.
Some three years after its completion, the positive effects of the project are still being felt. Prof Torrecillas is delighted with the results, and argues that only a pan-European project could have achieved such ambitious goals.

“As an industry-led project, IP NANOKER provided a suitable framework for research on top-end applications that require not only costly technologies but also very specific know-how,” he says. “Thus, bringing together the best European experts in materials science, chemistry, physics and engineering and focusing the work of these multidisciplinary teams on specific applications, was the only way to face the project challenges.”

The technology for producing these materials/coatings has yet to be truly commercialized. They face a somewhat tumultuous future as they develop markets for their products and build up manufacturing capabilities almost simultaneously.

They will definitely use ‘push’ strategies, i.e., try to convince car manufacturers, hip implant manufacturers,etc. their materials are a necessity for improved sales of the product (car, hip implant, etc.).

They could also use ‘pull’ strategies with retailers (convince them their sales will improve) and or the general public (this will make your life easier, better, more exciting, safer, etc.). The hope with a pull strategy is that retailers and/or the general public will start demanding these improved products (car, hip implants, etc.) and the manufacturers will be clamouring for your nanotechnology-enabled materials.

Of course, if you manage to create a big demand, then you have the problem of delivering your product, which brings this post back to manufacturing and having to address capacity issues. You will also have competitors, which likely means the technology and/or  the buyers’ ideas about the technology, will evolve, at least in the short term, while the market (as they say) shakes out.

If you want to read more about some of the issues associated with commercializing nanotechnology-enabled products, there’s this Feb. 10, 2014 post titled, ‘Valley of Death’, ‘Manufacturing Middle’, and other concerns in new government report about the future of nanomanufacturing in the US‘ about a report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a May 23, 2014 post titled, ‘Competition, collaboration, and a smaller budget: the US nano community responds‘, which touches on some commercialization issues, albeit, within a very different context.

One final note, it’s interesting to note that the March 2014 news release about IP Nanoker is on a Horizon 2020 (this replaces the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme) news website. I expect officials want to emphasize the reach and impact these funded projects have over time.