In a stunning leak of unofficial information, the prestigious science magazine Nature announced in its news section just a couple of hours ago that the “GRAPHENE” project is one of two winners of the European Commission’s funding call for FET – Future and Emerging Technologies. Each of the two projects will receive a stellar amount of half a billion euros in funding over the next ten years. The other successful project, selected from a shortlist of six, is the Human Brain Project to explore the workings of the human mind.
Although a formal announcement by the Commission is expected to be made this coming Monday, this is a good moment to think about the expected impact of the FET project on the research and commercialization of graphene. Current graphene research still revolves a lot around academic labs, physics textbooks, and publications in scientific journals. However, in addition to the ever-growing number of graphene researchers and papers, recent years have brought a surge in patents related to graphene, as well as clusters of companies which market various forms of graphene. Not only is graphene marketed for research purposes, but most recently it has featured in commercially available conductive inks for printed electronics. Large industry players, such as IBM, Samsung, Siemens, BASF, and others, feature prominently in graphene news and lead the way towards the introduction of graphene into commercially available devices, such as smartphones and computers. Still, it seems that these recent developments are just the tip of the iceberg, and that graphene is indeed set to change the world.
Graphene is a film of carbon just one atom thick, first experimentally isolated in the early 2000’s. Graphene’s long-predicted super-properties such as unprecedented electrical conductivity, mechanical strength and optical transparency, have all been experimentally verified, with much more discovered along the way. The trail of discovery seems to go on perpetually, with thousands of scientific publications about the material every year. The FET project GRAPHENE aims to pave a pathway from the research into industrial technologies which will change our world. If the patent landscape has experienced a surge in recent years, what is about to happen is an avalanche of graphene-based patents. Applications of graphene in the tangible world will most likely go beyond all expectations imaginable at the moment, while some currently touted applications are bound to be left behind for other materials, perhaps even graphene’s two-dimensional cousins such as boron nitride and molybdenum disulfide (even if their names are not as catchy as “graphene”).
The FET partnership includes 50 companies, in addition to more than 500 academic research labs. At the forefront, as part of the main consortium of partners, are AMO GmbH and Nokia. It will be interesting to see whether graphene can save the fledgling Nokia, who has been researching graphene for improved cameras. It is unlikely that the FET will directly result in the creation of new companies, although there is still some space on the graphene market in Europe. It is however certain that existing companies, particularly those that are part of the FET Flagship, will significantly improve their market position with novel products and long-lasting partnerships with the academia. The FET Flagship is the largest graphene project in the world and promises to propel Europe towards the position of world technology leader.