Tag Archives: NGI

UK’s National Graphene Institute kerfuffle gets bigger

First mentioned here in a March 18, 2016 posting titled: Tempest in a teapot or a sign of things to come? UK’s National Graphene Institute kerfuffle, the ‘scandal’ seems to be getting bigger, from a March 29, 2016 posting on Dexter Johnson’s Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website (Note: A link has been removed),

Since that news story broke, damage control from the NGI [UK National Graphene Institute], the University of Manchester, and BGT Materials, the company identified in the Times article, has been coming fast and furious. Even this blog’s coverage of the story has gotten comments from representatives of BGT Materials and the University of Manchester.

There was perhaps no greater effort in this coordinated defense than getting Andre Geim, a University of Manchester researcher who was a co-discoverer of graphene, to weigh in. …

Despite Geim’s recent public defense, and a full-on PR campaign to turn around the perception that the UK government was investing millions into UK research only to have the fruits of that research sold off to foreign interests, there was news last week that the UK Parliament would be launching an inquiry into the “benefits and disbenefits of the way that graphene’s intellectual property and commercialisation has been managed, including through research and innovation collaborations.”

The timing for the inquiry is intriguing but there have been no public comments or hints that the NGI kerfuffle precipitated the Graphene Inquiry,

The Science and Technology Committee issues a call for written submissions for its inquiry on graphene.

Send written submissions

The inquiry explores the lessons from graphene for research and innovation in other areas, as well as the management and commercialisation of graphene’s intellectual property. Issues include:

  • The research obstacles that have had to be overcome for graphene, including identifying research priorities and securing research funding, and the lessons from this for other areas of research.
  • The factors that have contributed to the successful development of graphene and how these might be applied in other areas, including translating research into innovation, managing/sharing intellectual property, securing development funding, and bringing key stakeholders together.
  • The benefits and disbenefits of the way that graphene’s intellectual property and commercialisation has been managed, including through research and innovation collaborations, and the lessons from this for other areas.

The deadline for submissions is midday on Monday 18 April 2016.

The Committee expects to take oral evidence later in April 2016.

Getting back to the NGI, BGT Materials, and University of Manchester situation, there’s a forceful comment from Daniel Cochlin (identified as a graphene communications and marketing manager at the University of Manchester in an April 2, 2015 posting on Nanoclast) in Dexter’s latest posting about the NGI. From the comments section of a March 29, 2016 posting on the Nanoclast blog,

Maybe the best way to respond is to directly counter some of your assertions.

1. The NGI’s comments on this blog were to counter factual inaccuracies contained in your story. Your Editor-in-Chief and Editorial Director, Digital were also emailed to complain about the story, with not so much as an acknowledgement of the email.
2. There was categorically no ‘coaxing’ of Sir Andre to make comments. He was motivated to by the inaccuracies and insinuations of the Sunday Times article.
3. Members of the Science and Technology Select Committee visited the NGI about ten days before the Sunday Times article and this was followed by their desire to hold an evidence session to discuss graphene commercialisation.
4. The matter of how many researchers work in the NGI is not ‘hotly contested’. The NGI is 75% full with around 130 researchers regularly working there. We would expect this figure to grow by 10-15% within the next few days as other facilities are closed down.
5. Graphene Lighting PLC is the spin-out company set up to produce and market the lightbulb. To describe them as a ‘shadowy spin-out’ is unjustified and, I would suggest, libelous [emphasis mine].
6. Your question about why, if BGT Materials is a UK company, was it not mentioned [emphasis mine] in connection with the lightbulb is confusing – as stated earlier the company set up to manage the lightbulb was Graphene Lighting PLC.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take three days for this to be accepted by your moderators, as it did last time.

*ETA March 31, 2016 at 1530 hours PDT: Dexter has posted response comments in answer to Cochlin’s. You can read them for youself here .* I have a couple of observations (1) The use of the word ‘libelous’ seems a bit over the top. However, it should be noted that it’s much easier to sue someone for libel in England where the University of Manchester is located than it is in most jurisdictions. In fact, there’s an industry known as ‘libel tourism’ where litigious companies and individuals shop around for a jurisdiction such as England where they can easily file suit. (2) As for BGT Materials not being mentioned in the 2015 press release for the graphene lightbulb, I cannot emphasize how unusual that is. Generally speaking, everyone and every agency that had any involvement in developing and bringing to market a new product, especially one that was the ‘first consumer graphene-based product’, is mentioned. When you consider that BGT Materials is a newish company according to its About page,

BGT Materials Limited (BGT), established in 2013, is dedicated to the development of graphene technologies that utilize this “wonder material” to enhance our lives. BGT has pioneered the mass production of large-area, high-quality graphene rapidly achieving the first milestone required for the commercialization of graphene-enhanced applications.

the situation grows more peculiar. A new company wants and needs that kind of exposure to attract investment and/or keep current stakeholders happy. One last comment about BGT Materials and its public relations, Thanasis Georgiou, VP BGT Materials, Visiting scientist at the University of Manchester (more can be found on his website’s About page), waded into the comments section of Dexter’s March 15, 2016 posting and the first about the kerfuffle. Gheorgiou starts out in a relatively friendly fashion but his followup has a sharper tone,

I appreciate your position but a simple email to us and we would clarify most of the issues that you raised. Indeed your article carries the same inaccuracies that the initial Sunday Times article does, which is currently the subject of a legal claim by BGT Materials. [emphasis mine]

For example, BGT Materials is a UK registered company, not a Taiwanese one. A quick google search and you can confirm this. There was no “shadowy Canadian investor”, the company went through a round of financing, as most technology startups do, in order to reach the market quickly.

It’s hard to tell if Gheorgiou is trying to inform Dexter or threaten him in his comment to the March 15, 2016 posting but taken together with Daniel Cochlin’s claim of libel in his comment to the March 29, 2016 posting, it suggests an attempt at intimidation.

These are understandable responses given the stakes involved but moving to the most damaging munitions in your arsenal is usually not a good choice for your first  or second response.

Tempest in a teapot or a sign of things to come? UK’s National Graphene Institute kerfuffle

A scandal-in-the-offing, intellectual property, miffed academics, a chortling businessman, graphene, and much more make this a fascinating story.

Before launching into the main attractions, those unfamiliar with the UK graphene effort might find this background informal useful. Graphene, was first isolated at the University of Manchester in 2004 by scientists Andre Geim* and Konstantin Novoselov, Russian immigrants, both of whom have since become Nobel laureates and knights of the realm. The excitement in the UK and elsewhere is due to graphene’s extraordinary properties which could lead to transparent electronics, foldable/bendable electronics, better implants, efficient and inexpensive (they hope) water filters, and more. The UK government has invested a lot of money in graphene as has the European Union (1B Euros in the Graphene Flagship) in the hope that huge economic benefits will be reaped.

Dexter Johnson’s March 15, 2016 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) provides details about the situation (Note: Links have been removed),

A technology that, a year ago, was being lauded as the “first commercially viable consumer product” using graphene now appears to be caught up in an imbroglio over who owns its intellectual property rights. The resulting controversy has left the research institute behind the technology in a bit of a public relations quagmire.

The venerable UK publication The Sunday Times reported this week on what appeared to be a mutiny occurring at the National Graphene Institute (NGI) located at the University of Manchester. Researchers at the NGI had reportedly stayed away from working at the institute’s gleaming new $71 million research facility over fears that their research was going to end up in the hands of foreign companies, in particular a Taiwan-based company called BGT Materials.

The “first commercially viable consumer product” noted in Dexter’s posting was a graphene-based lightbulb which was announced by the NGI to much loud crowing in March 2015 (see my March 30, 2015 posting). The company producing the lightbulb was announced as “… Graphene Lighting PLC is a spin-out based on a strategic partnership with the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at The University of Manchester to create graphene applications.” There was no mention of BGT.

Dexter describes the situation from the BGT perspective (from his March 15, 2016 posting), Note: Links have been removed,

… BGT did not demur when asked by  the Times whether it owned the technology. In fact, Chung Ping Lai, BGT’s CEO, claimed it was his company that had invented the technology for the light bulb and not the NGI. The Times report further stated that Lai controls all the key patents and claims to be delighted with his joint venture with the university. “I believe in luck and I have had luck in Manchester,” Lai told the Times.

With companies outside the UK holding majority stakes in the companies spun out of the NGI—allowing them to claim ownership of the technologies developed at the institute—one is left to wonder what was the purpose of the £50 million (US $79 million) earmarked for graphene research in the UK more than four years ago? Was it to develop a local economy based around graphene—a “Graphene Valley”, if you will? Or was it to prop up the local construction industry through the building of shiny new buildings that reportedly few people occupy? That’s the charge leveled by Andre Geim, Nobel laureate for his discovery of graphene, and NGI’s shining star. Geim reportedly described the new NGI building as: “Money put in the British building industry rather than science.”

Dexter ends his March 15, 2016 posting with an observation  that will seem familiar to Canadians,

Now, it seems the government’s eagerness to invest in graphene research—or at least, the facilities for conducting that research—might have ended up bringing it to the same place as its previous lack of investment: the science is done in the UK and the exploitation of the technology is done elsewhere.

The March 13, 2016 Sunday Times article [ETA on April 3, 2016: This article is now behind a paywall] by Tom Harper, Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Michael Sheridan, which seems to be the source of Dexter’s posting, takes a more partisan approach,

ACADEMICS are boycotting a top research facility after a company linked to China was given access to lucrative confidential material from one of Britain’s greatest scientific breakthroughs.

Some scientists at Manchester University working on graphene, a wonder substance 200 times stronger than steel, refuse to work at the new £61m national institution, set up to find ways to exploit the material, amid concerns over a deal struck between senior university management and BGT Materials.

The academics are concerned that the National Graphene Institute (NGI), which was opened last year by George Osborne, the chancellor, and forms one of the key planks of his “northern powerhouse” industrial strategy, does not have the necessary safeguards to protect their confidential research, which could revolutionise the electronics, energy, health and building industries.

BGT, which is controlled by a Taiwanese businessman, subsequently agreed to work with a Chinese manufacturing company and university to develop similar graphene technology.

BGT says its work in Manchester has been successful and it is “offensive” and “untrue” to suggest that it would unfairly use intellectual property. The university say there is no evidence “whatsoever” of unfair use of confidential information. Manchester says it is understandable that some scientists are cautious about the collaborative environment of the new institute. But one senior academic said the arrangement with BGT had caused the university’s graphene research to descend into “complete anarchy”.

The academic said: “The NGI is a national facility, and why should we use it for a company, which is not even an English [owned] company? How much [intellectual property] is staying in England and how much is going to Taiwan?”

The row highlights concerns that the UK has dawdled in developing one of its greatest discoveries. Nearly 50% of ­graphene-related patents have been filed in China, and just 1% in Britain.

Manchester signed a £5m “research collaboration agreement” with BGT Materials in October 2013. Although the company is controlled by a Taiwanese businessman, Chung-ping Lai, the university does have a 17.5% shareholding.

Manchester claimed that the commercial deal would “attract a significant number of jobs to the city” and “benefit the UK economy”.

However, an investigation by The Sunday Times has established:

Only four jobs have been created as a result of the deal and BGT has not paid the full £5m due under the agreement after two projects were cancelled.

Pictures sent to The Sunday Times by a source at the university last month show that the offices at the NGI [National Graphene Institute], which can accommodate 120 staff, were deserted.

British-based businessmen working with graphene have also told The Sunday Times of their concerns about the institute’s information security. Tim Harper, a Manchester-based graphene entrepreneur, said: “We looked at locating there [at the NGI] but we take intellectual property extremely seriously and it is a problem locating in such a facility.

“If you don’t have control over your computer systems or the keys to your lab, then you’ve got a problem.”

I recommend reading Dexter’s post and the Sunday Times article as they provide some compelling insight into the UK situation vis à vis nanotechnology, science, and innovation.

*’Gheim’ corrected to ‘Geim’ on March 30, 2016.

Graphene light bulb to hit UK stores later in 2015

I gather people at the University of Manchester are quite happy about the graphene light bulb which their spin-off (or spin-out) company, Graphene Lighting PLC, is due to deliver to the market sometime later in 2015. From a March 30, 2015 news item by Nancy Owano on phys.org (Note: A link has been removed),

The BBC reported on Saturday [March 28, 2015] that a graphene bulb is set for shops, to go on sale this year. UK developers said their graphene bulb will be the first commercially viable consumer product using the super-strong carbon; bulb was developed by a Canadian-financed company, Graphene Lighting, one of whose directors is Prof Colin Bailey at the University of Manchester. [emphasis mine]

I have not been able to track down the Canadian connection mentioned (*never in any detail) in some of the stories. A March 30, 2015 University of Manchester press release makes no mention of Canada or any other country in its announcement (Note: Links have been removed),

A graphene lightbulb with lower energy emissions, longer lifetime and lower manufacturing costs has been launched thanks to a University of Manchester research and innovation partnership.

Graphene Lighting PLC is a spin-out based on a strategic partnership with the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at The University of Manchester to create graphene applications.

The UK-registered company will produce the lightbulb, which is expected to perform significantly better and last longer than traditional LED bulbs.

It is expected that the graphene lightbulbs will be on the shelves in a matter of months, at a competitive cost.

The University of Manchester has a stake in Graphene Lighting PLC to ensure that the University benefits from commercial applications coming out of the NGI.

The graphene lightbulb is believed to be the first commercial application of graphene to emerge from the UK, and is the first application from the £61m NGI, which only opened last week.

Graphene was isolated at The University of Manchester in 2004 by Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov, earning them the Nobel prize for Physics in 2010. The University is the home of graphene, with more than 200 researchers and an unrivalled breadth of graphene and 2D material research projects.

The NGI will see academic and commercial partners working side by side on graphene applications of the future. It is funded by £38m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and £23m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

There are currently more than 35 companies partnering with the NGI. In 2017, the University will open the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), which will accelerate the process of bringing products to market.

Professor Colin Bailey, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester said: “This lightbulb shows that graphene products are becoming a reality, just a little more than a decade after it was first isolated – a very short time in scientific terms.

“This is just the start. Our partners are looking at a range of exciting applications, all of which started right here in Manchester. It is very exciting that the NGI has launched its first product despite barely opening its doors yet.”

James Baker, Graphene Business Director, added: “The graphene lightbulb is proof of how partnering with the NGI can deliver real-life products which could be used by millions of people.

“This shows how The University of Manchester is leading the way not only in world-class graphene research but in commercialisation as well.”

Chancellor George Osborne and Sir Kostya Novoselov with the graphene lightbulb Courtesy: University of Manchester

Chancellor George Osborne and Sir Kostya Novoselov with the graphene lightbulb Courtesy: University of Manchester

This graphene light bulb announcement comes on the heels of the university’s official opening of its National Graphene Institute mentioned here in a March 26, 2015 post.

Getting back to graphene and light bulbs, Judy Lin in a March 30, 2015 post on LEDinside.com offers some details such as proposed pricing and more,

These new bulbs will be priced at GBP 15 (US $22.23) each.

The dimmable bulb incorporates a filament-shaped LED coated in graphene, which was designed by Manchester University, where the strong carbon material was first discovered.

$22 seems like an expensive light bulb but my opinion could change depending on how long it lasts. ‘Longer lasting’ (and other variants of the term) seen in the news stories and press release are not meaningful to me. Perhaps someone could specify how many hours and under what conditions?

* ‘but’ removed as it was unnecessary, April 3, 2015.

ETA April 3, 2105: Dexter Johnson has provided a thought-provoking commentary about this graphene light bulb in an April 2, 2015 post on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website), Note: Links have been removed,

The big story this week in graphene, after taking into account the discovery of “grapene,” [Dexter’s April Fool’s Day joke posting] has to be the furor that has surrounded news that a graphene-coated light bulb was to be the “first commercially viable consumer product” using graphene.

Since the product is not expected to be on store shelves until next year, “commercially viable” is both a good hedge and somewhat short on meaning. The list of companies with a commercially viable graphene-based product is substantial, graphene-based conductive inks and graphene-based lithium-ion anodes come immediately to mind. Even that list neglects products that are already commercially available, never mind “viable”, like Head’s graphene-based tennis racquets.

Dexter goes on to ask more pointed questions and shares the answers he got from Daniel Cochlin, the graphene communications and marketing manager at the University of Manchester. I confess I got caught up in the hype. It’s always good to have someone bringing things back down to earth. Thank you Dexter!

National Graphene Institute at the UK’s University of Manchester

It will house the UK’s graphene research efforts according to the Jan. 14, 2013 news item Nanowerk,

This is the first glimpse of the new £61m research institute into wonder material graphene, which is to be built at The University of Manchester.

The stunning, glass-fronted National Graphene Institute (NGI) will be the UK’s home of research into the world’s thinnest, strongest and most conductive material, providing the opportunity for researchers and industry to work together on a huge variety of potential applications.

The University of Manchester Jan. 14, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, spells out some of the hopes and dreams along with descriptions of the building plans,

It is hoped the centre will initially create around 100 jobs, with the long-term expectation of many thousands more in the North West and more widely in the UK.

The 7,600 square metre building will house state-of-the-art facilities, including two ‘cleanrooms’ – one which will take up the whole of the lower ground floor – where scientists can carry out experiments and research without contamination.

The Institute will also feature a 1,500 square metre research lab for University of Manchester graphene scientists to collaborate with their colleagues from industry and other UK universities.

Funding for the NGI will come from £38m from the Government, as part of £50m allocated for graphene research, and the University has applied for £23m from the European Research and Development Fund (ERDF). The NGI will operate as a ‘hub and spoke’ model, working with other UK institutions involved in graphene research.

Some of the world’s leading companies are also expected to sign up to work at the NGI, where they will be offered the chance to work on cutting edge projects, across various sectors, with Nobel Laureates and other leading members of the graphene team.

Graphene, isolated for the first time at The University of Manchester by Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov in 2004, has the potential to revolutionise a huge number of diverse applications; from smartphones and ultrafast broadband to drug delivery and computer chips.

Professor Colin Bailey, Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, added: “The National Graphene Institute will be the world’s leading centre of graphene research, combining the expertise of University of Manchester academics with their counterparts at other UK universities and with leading global commercial organisations.

“The potential for its impact on the city and the North West is huge, and will be one of the most exciting centres of cutting edge research in the UK.”

Work is set to start on the five-story NGI, which will have its entrance on Booth Street East, in March, and is expected to be completed in early 2015.

UK National Graphene Institute (NGI) Illustration courtesy of the University of Manchester, UK

UK National Graphene Institute (NGI) Illustration courtesy of the University of Manchester, UK

The University of Manchester is one of the institutions that forms the Graphene Flagship consortium which is currently competing for one of two European Union prizes of 1 Billion Euros for research to be awarded later this year.