Development of ‘wonder material’ for real applications

3rd December 2023
Paige West

Graphene, known as the strongest material on Earth, holds the potential to revolutionise various industries, from automotive to water treatment.

Despite its promise, commercial manufacturing challenges have limited its widespread use. However, a significant shift is on the horizon, thanks to the new €9 million EU-funded GIANCE project, featuring a key role from Northumbria University’s Professor Ahmed Elmarakbi, an expert in Automotive Composites.

GIANCE, short for ‘Pioneering Sustainable Graphene-based Solutions for Environmental Challenges’, unites industry giants like Stellantis and Boeing with various European research, technology organisations, and SMEs. Professor Elmarakbi has been appointed as the scientific coordinator and chairman of both the technical board and steering committee for this ambitious three-year project.

Graphene, discovered in 2004, consists of a single layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal structure, being a million times thinner than a human hair and 200 times stronger than steel. Currently, its most common encounter for many is in pencil graphite, made from layers of graphene.

The GIANCE project seeks to unlock graphene's vast potential in diverse applications, including composites, coatings, foams, and membranes. The project will delve into graphene’s various properties like wear and corrosion resistance, chemical and fire resistance, hardness, impact resistance, high-temperature resistance, structural health monitoring, and ultra-low friction surfaces. It will explore 11 'use cases' across sectors like automotive, aerospace, energy, and water treatment.

This initiative is part of the larger Graphene Flagship, a decade-long Horizon Europe-funded programme, which has united nearly 170 academic and industrial partners from 21 countries since 2013. Professor Elmarakbi, having led the Composites for Automotive task of the Graphene Flagship for four years, will now guide the development of a prototype graphene-based composite within GIANCE.

Discussing his role, Professor Elmarakbi said: “GIANCE is designed to build on the innovative work of the Graphene Flagship – creating new scalable materials solutions with enhanced technologies. By bringing together partners across Europe, GIANCE will create a robust and connected innovation ecosystem by stimulating collaboration, setting-up networks, building credibility for materials development, upscaling technologies, and tackling environmental challenges within the three interlinked project priority sectors – transport, energy, and water.

“Northumbria University’s involvement in this large-scale Horizon Europe project is a significant opportunity and responsibility. It signifies a substantial opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to addressing industry-specific challenges, advancing research, and fostering innovation. It also carries a responsibility to effectively bridge the gap between academia and industry, ultimately benefiting both sectors and society as a whole.”

Professor John Woodward, leading Northumbria’s Faculty of Engineering and Environment, highlighted the university’s role in GIANCE as a testament to its research prowess in advanced manufacturing technology: “This is a major European Union-funded project which has the potential to change the way we live, transforming the automotive, aerospace, energy, and water industries, making them more efficient and sustainable.

“As the academic lead in this project, this is an excellent example of how Northumbria University is leading the way when it comes to innovative research in areas which will have a real impact on all our lives.

“Our congratulations go to Professor Elmarakbi who is playing a significant role in the development of graphene-related materials. We look forward to the innovations and findings which come out of this project over the coming years, under his supervision.”

The project is co-funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme and UKRI, marking a significant stride towards harnessing graphene's transformative potential.

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