Neill Ricketts, founder of Versarien plc, talks to AZoNano about 2-DTech and their new proprietary graphene production technique.
Could you please give our readers a brief overview of 2D-Tech and the areas you work within?
2-DTech Limited, based in Manchester, is a development company born from the group that first isolated graphene at the University of Manchester. 2-DTech provides world class graphene materials, characterisation services and consultancy into an exceptionally active market. Versarien acquired 85% of 2-DTech in April 2014. Working with the University of Manchester, Versarien's mission is to commercialise graphene by integration into real world applications, creating significant socio-economic benefit.
How does your new mechanised exfoliation process work?
The new process, developed as a result of our investment program, is a major advance in graphene platelet production. It will accelerate potential commercial applications for graphene and graphene products. Our new proprietary graphene production technique is founded upon a licenced process from University of Ulster and builds on techniques originating from University of Manchester. The process involves a mechanised exfoliation process in which a strong shearing force is applied to the surface of the graphene layers.
Image Credits: 2-DTech Limited
Why has 2D-Tech developed this technique?
Our team is very much focused on turning proprietary technology into mass produced products. When we investigate manufacturing processes our main priorities are to ensure that they are scalable, cost effective and repeatable. Working with our partners at the Universities of Ulster and Manchester we are able to combine the academic and science with our practical engineering teams.
With this in mind our blue-chip clients have been looking to us to develop a process to produce graphene with a high chemical purity in as a few layers as possible. Above all they are looking for the graphene to have all the intrinsic properties that the material is known for: super strength, exceptional conductivity and virtually no mass. Our clients are very well aware of what this wonder material could potentially do for their products and they are looking to us to provide them with a reliable and cost effective source of raw material.
How will this process help open up the use of graphene on an industrial scale?
The new mechanized exfoliation process can be automated, allowing graphene platelets to be produced in larger quantities and with greater chemical purity. The resulting graphene has up to 99% carbon and minimal oxygen content, as well as being effectively inert. The graphene also exhibits exceptionally good structure and retains a very high degree of crystallinity ensuring that the risk of contamination is significantly reduced.
This process is no more complex than existing production techniques thereby providing our customers greater product flexibility. Parameters such as secondary processing and dispersion mediums and methods can be set to meet end-use application requirements. Different solvents can be specified, a wide range of concentration levels can be selected from, as well as different product forms either a liquid or powder.
We can also use our existing group resources to manufacture relatively large quantities of high quality graphene. We are now planning to commence production and by utilising our existing production facilities we expect to lower our graphene production costs.
CVD single graphene layers. Image Credits: 2-DTech Limited
What graphene applications does this new process support?
The potential applications for graphene are enormous and have been well publicised. As a company we are focusing on three areas where we believe graphene will have a huge impact on everyday life.
We are looking at composite structures. Applications for this are wide-ranging- from dentistry to photovoltaic cells used solar energy where one or all of the properties will make a real difference to the mass, conductivity or strength of the structures themselves. It is the same for plastics which is our second major area of concentration. Finally we are looking at batteries because graphene has the potential to make batteries smaller and longer lasting. This will have a major impact on the electronics industry.
There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the commercialisation of graphene on a large scale. What is your opinion on the current problems facing the successful commercialisation of this material?
There is no doubt that as a disruptive technology Graphene is a game-changer for manufacturing and industry. To make it commercially viable we are having to undergo a radical rethink on how we go about things. This includes everything from manufacturing processes, product design, and creating new technologies that weren't possible before. We need to make sure that production capacity of the raw material is built in line with customer expectation and commercial viability, and this really comes down to having a reliable, repeatable and cost effective method to produce it.
How will your new process be developed in the near future?
We are now working on building our capacity, but also turning our scalable process in to a more robust production system which grows in-line with commercial interest.
Where can our readers learn more about 2D-Tech and your work?
We publish our news on our own website 2-dtech.com/ and some of this can also be found on the Group's corporate website www.versarien.com. We also have a very active twitter feed which you can follow @2DTech
About Neill Ricketts
Neill Ricketts is a highly experienced engineer and entrepreneur with vast experience in many engineering sectors, such as aerospace, Formula 1 and the automotive industry. He is the founder of Versarien plc, the advanced materials engineering company which acquired 85% 2D-Tech Ltd - a development company born from the group that first isolated graphene at the University of Manchester.
2DTech provides world class graphene materials, characterisation services and consultancy into an exceptionally active market. Working with the University of Manchester, Versarien's mission is to commercialise graphene by integration into real world applications, creating significant socio-economic benefit.
In just over 3 years Neill has driven Versarien to grow from a three man operation in his garage to a multi award winning AIM listed plc employing over 100 staff across three operating companies.
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