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Nanomaterials November 2017 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Marianne Monteforte

Australia's Graphene-Certification Center

Why is this topic significant?

Swinburne University is partnering with industry players to host a graphene-certification center that will enable strict quality assurances and facilitate downstream graphene users' adoption of large-scale manufacturing.

Description

At the August 2017 Internet of Industrial Materials Conference, Swinburne University of Technology revealed its three-year Graphene Supply Chain CRC-P (Cooperative Research Centre – Projects) project. As part of this initiative, the university will host a graphene-supply-chain certification and research center, in collaboration with Australian manufacturers (Imagine Intelligent Materials, Austeng, HRL, Agilent, and Duromer).

The primary objective of the center is to enable strict quality assurances and facilitate downstream users of graphene in adopting large-scale manufacturing processes. Also, the center will provide developers with assurance that their graphene will consistently perform to the necessary product standards and provide supply-chain partners with confidence in manufacturing products with graphene.

Swinburne University of Technology is a key academic contributor behind the development of novel graphene-enabled products and digital manufacturing processes. Currently the university is developing—in collaboration with Imagine Intelligent Materials—smart-sensing graphene-composite films. The composite films are highly conductive and can sense and report on environmental changes with no additional electronic devices.

Implications

High-quality graphene holds great potential as an enabling material in the design of sensors and connected devices. However, poor mass-manufacturing reproducibility can cause the quality of graphene batches to be unreliable and could hinder the growth of the graphene market. Also, the lack of transparency into the quality and characteristics of graphene could cause issues for graphene manufacturers that seek to distinguish themselves from others.

Swinburne University of Technology's graphene-certification center could help graphene manufacturers overcome barriers to commercialization and help remove quality-assurance concerns of graphene buyers. Graphene-certification centers could help countries to gain a competitive advantage in global advanced-manufacturing supply chains.

However, some graphene-enabled product developers and buyers may view quality as less important than functionality and price of graphene and thus consider certification to be an unnecessary additional cost.

Impacts/Disruptions

The quality of graphene can vary depending on production conditions, and as a result, manufacturers need rapid, reliable information about structure and quality to optimize their processes. Although graphene standardization is progressing (through the International Organization for Standardization and International Electrotechnical Commission), several years could still be necessary for graphene standards to be in place. Progress in developments toward international standards will likely see a rise in the number of graphene-certification centers and help graphene manufacturers to strengthen resource integration in graphene certification.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Graphene certification, nanomaterial standards, connected devices, sensors, graphene composites

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Replacing Scarce Metals with Abundant Carbon Nanomaterials

Why is this topic significant?

Scarce metals are present in a wide range of everyday items. However, the increasing use of geochemically scarce metals is becoming a problem for society and for the environment, with demand being currently far greater than supply. Many research organizations are demonstrating the technical feasibility of replacing scarce metals with abundant carbon nanomaterials in a range of common applications.

Description

In a recent review of scientific literature and patents that appeared in the Journal of Cleaner Production, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology investigated the feasibility of replacing scarce metals, which find current use in a range of consumer applications, with carbon nanomaterials. The review reveals a list of carbon-nanomaterial substitutes—graphene, carbon nanotubes, and fullerenes—that show great potential in replacing 13 scarce metals in a range of their most common applications. Such applications include flame retardants, electronics (cables, thin display screens, and capacitors), catalytic convertors, strong materials, optical fibers, alloys, corrosion protection, and conductive materials.

Also, the review highlights that some of these carbon nanomaterials are more mature than others. Some metals show great short-term potential for substitution with carbon nanomaterials—for example, indium (transparent electrodes for computer screens), gallium (semiconductors), beryllium (conductive materials in cords and contacts), and silver (electronics). Some companies already are or are close to commercializing carbon nanomaterials that replace scarce metals. For example, graphene supplier First Graphite plans to release—in partnership with the University of Adelaide—its fire retardant (FireStop) in 2018, using graphene as the primary ingredient.

Implications

Extracting scarce metals—such as tin, silver, tungsten, and indium—is complex. Yet the materials find common use in many everyday items, from smartphones and flat-screen displays to renewable-power systems and communications equipment. As supply security of metal resources becomes a global concern, the pressing challenge facing a variety of industrial sectors that rely on scarce elements is either to find approaches to recycle and reuse these metals (which can be time consuming) or to find suitable replacement materials. The hunt for substitutes for rare earth minerals in a range of applications has been gaining momentum. The Chalmers University of Technology survey reveals that carbon nanomaterials show great potential as replacement materials. Being abundant and conductive, carbon nanomaterials make an ideal substitute for many scarce metals.

However, carbon-nanomaterial technologies are still at relatively early stages of commercialization. Additionally, developers may need to conduct extensive R&D for a full life-cycle analysis of carbon-nanomaterial-enabled devices to prevent future unintended negative consequences.

Impacts/Disruptions

The evidence and awareness of metal-resource problems relating to the use of scarce metals is growing in society. The problem is leading to a supply deficit and mineral-related conflicts. Such societal and economic drivers could see an increase in government support to fund the development of suitable alternative materials—such as carbon nanomaterials or carbon-alloys nanomaterials—to replace scarce metals. The transition of some sectors toward the use of carbon nanomaterials (instead of scarce metals) will inevitably result in an increase in investment in carbon-nanomaterial technologies and perhaps accelerate their penetration of other commercial markets.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Consumer electronics, renewables, rare earth metals, carbon nanomaterials

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: