The UK government is hoping that Novoselov and Geim can make money from graphene. In February, the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) announced £50 million (US$78 million) in funding for a National Graphene Institute at the university. Scheduled to open in 2015, the centre will be a hub for translating basic research into industrial applications. Researchers at Manchester will mingle with industrial scientists loaned by domestic and overseas technology firms. Spin-off companies will flourish in off-campus research parks, sparking a technology revolution in a city that was once at the centre of the Industrial Revolution. That’s the vision, at least.
The University of Manchester is a microcosm of a global boom in graphene research (see ‘Graphene goes global’). More than 20 academics from its chemistry, biology, materials science and engineering departments participate in weekly meetings about the material. The discussions are not only about electronics: some colleagues are studying graphene for use in biosensors, and others want to incorporate it into advanced materials
Sample of Other Graphene Funding
South Korea has approved a roadmap for graphene commercialization with $200 million budget for the next 6 years. They are also looking at a research institute that they would fund with $200-300 million per year.
Europe is currently in a pilot project for graphene which could become a 1 billion euro over ten year flagship project.
Whether the UK government’s gambit will help the United Kingdom to compete in the global electronics market is uncertain. Britain lags behind the rest of the world in graphene patents, according to Quentin Tannock, the chairman of Cambridge IP, an independent patent consulting firm in Cambridge, UK. The country is competing with others such as South Korea, a major producer of consumer electronics, which already has a US$200-million, five-year programme to develop graphene-based display panels and other devices, according to Byung Hee Hong, a graphene researcher at Seoul National University. Hong’s group has been perfecting methods for producing sheets of graphene on an industrial scale. “I’m now working with seven different companies,” he says. But Hong adds that the strong commercial interest in Seoul may actually bode well for the new Manchester centre. “Korean companies are not working only in Korea,” he says.
Even if companies are curious, graphene may still flounder as a commercial product, cautions Phaedon Avouris, a materials scientist at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. “There has been this circulating myth that graphene will replace silicon,” Avouris says. In fact, the material is not a semiconductor and lacks the necessary bandgap that would allow it to serve as a transistor — the basic element of all electronics — on its own. Avouris thinks that the material could find a use in niche markets such as high-frequency electronic devices, but he questions whether it will ever hit the big time.
Novoselov does not disagree. But, he adds, there have been enough suggested uses for graphene in different areas to make him want to look at other applications. “What I know for sure is that if we are not going to work on this, it will definitely not happen,” he says.
Novoselov has thrown himself into the project to build the graphene institute, meeting with architects and possible industrial partners on a weekly basis. Geim, who declined to be interviewed, is heavily involved too. Their group, however, is still at the cutting edge of graphene research, and is investigating the properties of layered graphene as well as other two-dimensional crystals such as boron nitride, molybdenum disulphide and niobium diselenide. Like graphene alone, the layered systems display exotic quantum behaviours and could have various applications. For example, in February, the group reported building a transistor by sandwiching boron nitride between two graphene sheets. When a voltage was applied, electrons tunnelled from one graphene sheet to the other, through the boron nitride barrier.