Business leaders have been getting to grips with Manchester’s ‘wonder material’ in a series of industry workshops to mark Graphene Week.
Held at the £61m National Graphene Institute (NGI) in the city centre around 75 delegates were introduced to the commercial potential of the world’s thinnest material.
The series of lectures and networking opportunities were organised by the Business Growth Hub and University of Manchester to encourage local SMEs to explore the advantages of working with graphene.
Opening the session hub director Richard Jeffery described graphene as a’ huge opportunity for the city and beyond’ and integral to the ‘overall story of what Manchester is all about.’
He said: “The investment that is going on here makes Manchester one of the first places in the world that can take graphene right through the process from early research to commercial use.”
He also encouraged attendees to get the graphene story out to their networks after finding out what it meant for them and their businesses.
Before adding: “Devolution is going to enable us to offer an even more integrated approach to helping more companies.”
The morning session was split into four lectures encompassing electronics, composites, membranes and biomedical functions.
Ivan Buckley, project manager at the NGI described graphene as ‘the material of the future in a revolutionary city’.
This set the scene with presentations on how graphene could potentially be used for everything from roll up mobile phone technology to helping people walk again.
Academics admitted it is still early days for the ‘young’ material and there is a need to set a benchmark in the industry.
While business figures said they were looking for a ‘common language’ between scientists and industry experts to maximise the commercialisation of graphene.
Steve Bennett, a headhunter for Transition Plus in the north west said: “Perhaps the challenge for graphene is to develop mutually understandable language between business and academia.”
He also asked who was going to draw up the priorities for where graphene is going to be applied, as industry will be looking for a real return on the money.
“It is not a criticism but from a business point of view it has to have a return on investment and a clear priority.
“It is great to see the academic enthusiasm here and I think we should do anything we can to encourage that but the real challenge will be that business engagement.”
Dr Ania Servant, a knowledge exchange fellow at the institution said: “We can not determine where the killer application is going to come from, I think the priorities will come from industry rather than from here.”
While business director James Baker said a ‘common language’ is at the forefront of what the NGI is doing by bringing research together with the 42 industry partners at the university.
David Hardman of textile manufacturing company Lantex praised the workshops after attending to ‘learn more about the possible applications of graphene.’
Taking particular interest in the biomedical side, he said there was scope to combine fabrics with graphene-based products to target pain or inflammation in the body.
“Graphene is absolutely revolutionary and it has been a real eye-opener”, he added.
Failsworth masterbatch manufacturer Hubron also believe graphene can enhance their industry.
Business development director Derek Hepburn said they have the technology to put graphene into the process but it is still about finding an end market.
He said: “There is still a bit of skepticism coming from industry but I think everyone can recognise the potential for graphene.
“It is now about differences in cost and yield and whether to use pure graphene.”
Taken from Manchester Evening News, 22nd June 2015 by Lucy Roue