Sir Andre Geim, above, and Sir Kostantin Novoselov won the Nobel prize for the innovation in 2010. Colin McPherson / Corbis
Sir Andre Geim, above, and Sir Kostantin Novoselov won the Nobel prize for the innovation in 2010. Colin McPherson / Corbis

Graphene is the next big thing



LONDON // Imagine fully charging a smartphone in seconds or an electric car in minutes.

Consider the possibilities of a battery that was so light and flexible it could be folded up or stitched into clothing. How useful would a membrane that could filter the salt out of sea­water be in the developing world?

These are some of the applications that are being developed from graphene, the material that was first isolated in the north-west British city of Manchester in 2004 by Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostantin Novoselov. In 2010, the pair won the Nobel Prize for the innovation.

Graphene, often described as a two-dimensional material as it is created at just one atom thick from carbon, is being touted as a wonder material that will have the same effect on lives in the fut­ure that plastic had for the post-war generation.

There are hopes that it will unleash a new technology and manufacturing revolution in the United Kingdom and be one of the building blocks of the government’s “Northern Powerhouse” economic ambitions, as a graphene cluster is developed around Manchester. Last year, the £60 million (Dh311.8m) Nat­ional Graphene Institute (NGI) opened in the city and further research facilities are under construction.

Jim O’Neill, a world-renowned economist who is now commercial secretary to the UK Treasury and a honorary professor at Manchester University, says graphene could become a big commercial and employment success, as well as being a huge boost for the university.

“If we were sitting here in 2026, [and] if graphene hasn’t contributed in a significant way to Manchester’s value added, it would be disappointing,” he says.

Graphene has some amazing properties that make it particularly adaptable when added to other materials. It conducts electricity 30 times better than silicon and is also the most impermeable material ever discovered.

Graphene is 200 times stronger than steel, yet it is also flexible and almost transparent. A little goes a long way: a gram of graphene could cover several football pitches.

Companies such as IBM, Samsung, BAE Systems and Dyson have raced to get involved in graphene-related research. Rolls-Royce, the aircraft engine maker, is assessing the possibilities for graphene and was engaged with the Manchester institute. “The range of proposed applications is wide, from electronics through to struc­tural composite materials. Each could offer potential benefits along with different challenges in the realisation of these benefits into a full scale commercial product,” a spokesman for the company says.

James Baker, the business dir­ector of the NGI, was hired two years ago from the aerospace company BAE Systems to lead the commercialisation of Manchester’s research.

He has been persuading companies to come and work with research scientists, chemists and engineers at the university.

“This has real potential to disrupt, but British business needs to engage now and not hang back and wait until it is fully developed. The best way to create value from graphene and to build new commercial relationships is for business to be in at the beginning,” Mr Baker says.

The industries most interested in the potential of graphene include aerospace, consumer electronics, space and coatings.

In a very limited way, graphene has already been brought to market, for example Head, the sports equipment maker, used the mat­erial in a range of tennis rackets used by Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. However, a much-touted light bulb – which was supposed to be launched last year – is still awaited.

And some sceptics are saying that the UK is already losing the race to exploit the material its scientists discovered. Other nations are making great strides with graphene, with almost 13,000 graphene-related patents now lodged – the bulk coming from ­Japan, Korea, the United States and China. (It is not possible to patent graphene itself.)

Samsung, which sees great value in it for its flatscreen TVs, tablets and smartphones, holds 500 patents alone. “We don’t want to wait 40 years for the first applications to be commercialised,” Mr Baker says. “It is a race, it is about getting to market first but with the right value.

“The race is on to make the best graphene at the lowest price. Yes other countries have got thousands of patents, but if you argue about the quality of those patents, we have the core intellectual property [12 published patent applications] around the methodology,” he says.

“A lot of people are experimenting with graphene but they don’t understand the chemistry. That is why we have 250 researchers working alongside industry and business to bring the science to market.”

One problem is that graphene can be bought in rolls, in single layers and in multiple layers – all of varying quality. Scientists and those in industry want to iron out that variability, so that major commercialisation can proceed.

Mr Baker says the NGI will have as many as 50 partners in industry and manufacturing in the next two to three years. One company, Morgan Advanced Materials, has put two of its engineers and some of its equipment into the NGI and invested about £1m. Morgan’s people, who have decades of expertise developing carbon composites, will work with the scientists to optimise the relationship between the science and the manufacturing process.

Over the next year, the sector that is most likely to see graphene products come to market is in the area of inks, coatings and paints.

Jon Mabbitt, the chief executive of Applied Graphene Materials (AGM), runs one of the businesses that is hoping to develop graphene as a “super additive”.

The company, based in Redcar, North Yorkshire is a spin-out from the nearby Durham University in the north-east of the country. AGM listed on the junior AIM stock market in 2013 and has established a commercial large-scale production facility.

Mr Mabbitt also describes graphene as “revolutionary” or “disruptive” technology. “Where it comes into its own is when two or more of its base properties can be used together,” he says.

Mr Mabbitt is working with the Formula One industry where it could be adapted to make racing car bodies lighter and stronger. AGM’s first products are likely to be in coatings for ships.

“By putting less than 1 per cent of graphene into primers for ships you can prevent barnacles building up on ships’ hulls. Graphene is also a natural lubricant so that reduces the hydrodynamic drag on a ship’s hull, which improves its fuel effi­ciency. So graphene could both reduce corrosion of the ship, leading to lower maintenance costs, while improving its operating efficiency,” he says.

Regarding what Mr Mabbitt calls “the patent landgrab”, he admits that the UK is not as good at this as other nations.

But he insists it is more about quality rather than quantity. “The UK is much more switched on to being able to retain and exploit new technology than it was 20 years ago. We are in a better position now and there has been good investment from the government in graphene.”

Applications in medicine are also being developed. In the future graphene could be a med­ium for drug delivery or treatment for cancer. “Potentially you might be able to programme a graphene cell to go into a body and stop a cancer cell from mut­ating. In the nearer term, it could be used as a ‘smart’ bandage, an adaptive contact lens or even as a replacement limb or joint,” Mr Baker says.

Last month, researchers at the universities of Cambridge and Trieste showed that graphene does not affect the functioning of human nerve cells. That may make it suitable for the electrodes used in deep brain implants for diseases such as Parkinson’s.

The race to exploit graphene is heating up. The European Union has launched a €1 billion (Dh4.09bn) research fund and recent data from the UK government reveals that China now has 29 per cent of the worldwide patents.

Undoubtedly it will be hard for the UK to hold on to its lead but, by funding scientists and engineers to keep working on developing graphene technologies, British politicians are hoping that the UK will have done enough to take some of the profits as well as the research glory.

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ASIAN RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP 2024

Results
Hong Kong 52-5 UAE
South Korea 55-5 Malaysia
Malaysia 6-70 Hong Kong
UAE 36-32 South Korea

Fixtures
Friday, June 21, 7.30pm kick-off: UAE v Malaysia
At The Sevens, Dubai (admission is free).
Saturday: Hong Kong v South Korea

At Everton Appearances: 77; Goals: 17

At Manchester United Appearances: 559; Goals: 253

Fourth-round clashes for British players

- Andy Murray (1) v Benoit Paire, Centre Court (not before 4pm)

- Johanna Konta (6) v Caroline Garcia (21), Court 1 (4pm)

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

The biog

Name: Timothy Husband

Nationality: New Zealand

Education: Degree in zoology at The University of Sydney

Favourite book: Lemurs of Madagascar by Russell A Mittermeier

Favourite music: Billy Joel

Weekends and holidays: Talking about animals or visiting his farm in Australia

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League semi-finals, first leg
Liverpool v Roma

When: April 24, 10.45pm kick-off (UAE)
Where: Anfield, Liverpool
Live: BeIN Sports HD
Second leg: May 2, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Switching sides

Mahika Gaur is the latest Dubai-raised athlete to attain top honours with another country.

Velimir Stjepanovic (Serbia, swimming)
Born in Abu Dhabi and raised in Dubai, he finished sixth in the final of the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the 200m butterfly final.

Jonny Macdonald (Scotland, rugby union)
Brought up in Abu Dhabi and represented the region in international rugby. When the Arabian Gulf team was broken up into its constituent nations, he opted to play for Scotland instead, and went to the Hong Kong Sevens.

Sophie Shams (England, rugby union)
The daughter of an English mother and Emirati father, Shams excelled at rugby in Dubai, then after attending university in the UK played for England at sevens.

Tips for newlyweds to better manage finances

All couples are unique and have to create a financial blueprint that is most suitable for their relationship, says Vijay Valecha, chief investment officer at Century Financial. He offers his top five tips for couples to better manage their finances.

Discuss your assets and debts: When married, it’s important to understand each other’s personal financial situation. It’s necessary to know upfront what each party brings to the table, as debts and assets affect spending habits and joint loan qualifications. Discussing all aspects of their finances as a couple prevents anyone from being blindsided later.

Decide on the financial/saving goals: Spouses should independently list their top goals and share their lists with one another to shape a joint plan. Writing down clear goals will help them determine how much to save each month, how much to put aside for short-term goals, and how they will reach their long-term financial goals.

Set a budget: A budget can keep the couple be mindful of their income and expenses. With a monthly budget, couples will know exactly how much they can spend in a category each month, how much they have to work with and what spending areas need to be evaluated.

Decide who manages what: When it comes to handling finances, it’s a good idea to decide who manages what. For example, one person might take on the day-to-day bills, while the other tackles long-term investments and retirement plans.

Money date nights: Talking about money should be a healthy, ongoing conversation and couples should not wait for something to go wrong. They should set time aside every month to talk about future financial decisions and see the progress they’ve made together towards accomplishing their goals.

SPECS: Polestar 3

Engine: Long-range dual motor with 400V battery
Power: 360kW / 483bhp
Torque: 840Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Max touring range: 628km
0-100km/h: 4.7sec
Top speed: 210kph
Price: From Dh360,000
On sale: September

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Brief scores:

QPR 0

Watford 1

Capoue 45'+1

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE.

Part three: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part two: how climate change drove the race for an alternative 

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE

What is a Ponzi scheme?

A fraudulent investment operation where the scammer provides fake reports and generates returns for old investors through money paid by new investors, rather than through ligitimate business activities.

THE LOWDOWN

Romeo Akbar Walter

Rating: 2/5 stars
Produced by: Dharma Productions, Azure Entertainment
Directed by: Robby Grewal
Cast: John Abraham, Mouni Roy, Jackie Shroff and Sikandar Kher 

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

The five pillars of Islam

1. Fasting

2. Prayer

3. Hajj

4. Shahada

5. Zakat 

Suggested picnic spots

Abu Dhabi
Umm Al Emarat Park
Yas Gateway Park
Delma Park
Al Bateen beach
Saadiyaat beach
The Corniche
Zayed Sports City
 
Dubai
Kite Beach
Zabeel Park
Al Nahda Pond Park
Mushrif Park
Safa Park
Al Mamzar Beach Park
Al Qudrah Lakes 

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian

Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).

Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming

Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics

Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Company profile

Company: Eighty6 

Date started: October 2021 

Founders: Abdul Kader Saadi and Anwar Nusseibeh 

Based: Dubai, UAE 

Sector: Hospitality 

Size: 25 employees 

Funding stage: Pre-series A 

Investment: $1 million 

Investors: Seed funding, angel investors  

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone