Strength that’s only an atom deep
China can play a globally significant role in graphene development and commercialization through scientific research, coordinating international scientific exchanges, and production, said Robert Young, a renowned graphene scientist and a professor of polymer science and technology at the University of Manchester.
Young, who is leading a major graphene collaboration between the UK’s National Graphene Institute and the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials, voiced support for the Chinese government’s focus and push on developing graphene, adding that he is impressed by the good, fundamental knowledge of graphene already acquired by Chinese science organizations.
Graphene is one of the most interesting inventions of modern times, and has the potential to transform the field of material science. A thin layer of pure carbon, it is tougher than a diamond, yet very lightweight, and easily conducts electricity and heat. It has been used for a wide variety of applications, from strengthening tennis rackets to building semiconductors.
Graphene was first isolated from the mineral graphite at the University of Manchester by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in 2004. The achievement earned them the Nobel Prize in physics in 2010. Owing to its short history, its commercial potential has yet to be unlocked.
“China’s high-tech manufacturing industry, ability to invest heavily in the graphene sector and its abundance of highly qualified graphene industry talent all contribute to its advantages in the graphene industry,” Young said.
He said China is going in the right direction in giving graphene an important role in its policies, such as in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), which sets out the country’s development objectives.
China and the UK can cooperate greatly in graphene research in two key ways, Young said. “First, the exchange of talent is important. For example, in my team there are several Chinese PhD students doing graphene research, and I would expect they will in the future return to China and share their knowledge and expertise.”
The other contribution China can make to the global graphene field is the hosting of academic and industrial conferences, to facilitate more discussions and exchange of ideas in the area, he said, adding that one example is the GraphChina conference in Qingdao in August.
Graphene has an important role to play for China, especially as it has been discovered at a time when China’s electronics industry is also developing rapidly and will be able to make the most of this material, Young said.
“Chinese industries are much more sophisticated compared with 20 years ago, and graphene can also greatly help China achieve its ambition of a structural shift toward highend manufacturing,” he said.
Currently, 70 percent of graphene’s raw material, graphite, is found in China, giving Chinese graphene manufacturers a big advantage. To make the most of such an advantage, China has also established five graphene industrial parks to accelerate the industrialization of the material. The parks are located in Changzhou, Wuxi, Ningbo, Qingdao and Chongqing.
According to statistics from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, China has applied for 47 percent of the world’s total Robert Young
Robert Young says China and the UK can cooperate greatly in graphene research.