A £14m centre designed to help companies work with products based on the so-called ‘wonder material’ graphene is to be established in County Durham.
In his recent budget announcement, the chancellor George Osborne said The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) – which is headquartered in Redcar and also has facilities in Sedgefield and elsewhere – would be the home for a proposed Graphene Applications Innovation Centre.
The new centre, which will be supported through funds from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), is set to open later this year and will provide both the resources and expertise to help firms to develop, prove, prototype and scale-up graphene-based products and processes.
In his speech, the chancellor said it was an important part of plans to kick-start the technology and manufacturing sectors in the UK.
“If Britain isn’t leading the world in science and technology and engineering, then we are condemning our country to fall behind,” he told Parliament.
Graphene, he added, was a “great British discovery that we should break the habit of a lifetime with and commercially develop in Britain”.
Originating from graphite, graphene is composed of carbon atoms arranged in tightly bound hexagons just one atom thick; three million sheets of the substance placed on top on each other would only be 1mm deep.
First isolated at the University of Manchester in 2004, it is tipped to transform many products.
Its electrical and thermal conductivity, optical purity and mechanical strength, for example, mean it could be used in high-capacity batteries, flexible screens, ultra-fast transistors and other electronic components, lasers and materials from sports equipment to aircraft wings.
CPI manages the national development centres for industrial biotechnology, printable electronics and biologics.
A part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the Government’s elite network of technology innovation centres, it helps its clients to develop, prove, prototype and scale-up the next generation of products and processes, using an innovative model that provides assets and expertise, helping minimise risk and expenditure in the early stages of development.
It was because of such work, as well as its current work with graphene technologies and formulation, that it was offered the new centre.
CPI chief executive Nigel Perry said: “Graphene is a very interesting material with great promise.
“The new centre will work alongside academic organisations such as the National Graphene Institute, graphene manufacturers and end users, to develop and prove commercial applications for a range of major industries.
“The new centre will integrate with existing development facilities at CPI’s printable electronics and formulation centres based at Sedgefield, County Durham. The UK has a strong position in the fundamental science of graphene and the new centre will increase the focus on exploring potential applications via the scale up of manufacturing processes for both material and products.
“If the UK is to create economic benefit from graphene it will require a concerted effort to become closer to market by proving that processes work at an industrial scale.”
Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board, a UK public body which reports to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said: “This announcement is a positive endorsement from Government of the rapid progress Catapults are making in helping UK businesses accelerate the commercialisation of new and innovative technologies.”