Paragraf, a recent spin-out company of the University of Cambridge, has begun the manufacture of graphene—a sheet of carbon with a thickness of just one atomic layer—of up to 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter, sufficiently large for commercial electronic devices.
Paragraf has been manufacturing graphene “wafers” and graphene-based electronic devices that can be used in transistors, where the graphene-based chips could offer speeds over 10 times faster when compared to silicon chips; and in electrical and chemical sensors, where graphene could enhance the sensitivity by a factor of over 30. The first device of the company will be out in the market in the next few months.
The extraordinary properties of graphene—more conductive than copper, stronger than steel, highly flexible, and transparent—render it suitable for a variety of applications. However, the challenges associated with manufacturing graphene at high quality and at high volume has hindered the extensive commercial application in electronic devices. In the traditional method of producing large-area graphene, copper is used as a catalyst, which contaminates the graphene, rendering it incompatible for electronic applications.
In 2015, Professor Sir Colin Humphreys from the Center for Gallium Nitride in Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, together with his former postdoctoral scientists Dr Simon Thomas and Dr Ivor Guiney, devised a new method to produce large-area graphene.
With their method, the scientists were able to produce high-quality graphene wafers with a diameter of up to 8 inches, defeating other university research groups across the world as well as companies such as Intel, Samsung, and IBM.
The three scientists established Paragraf in early 2018. Thomas is presently the CEO of the company and Guiney is its Chief Technology Officer, while Humphreys, who has recently moved to the Queen Mary University of London, serves as Chair.
Paragraf has been awarded £2.9 million in funding to promote the development of its first commercial products and moved into locations in February 2018. The funding round was headed by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialization wing. Paragraf has already employed 16 people and has filed eight patents.
Paragraf has the potential to transform a wide range of industries, including electronics, energy, and healthcare. It will enable the basic science results achieved in laboratories worldwide using small graphene flakes to be commercially exploited in graphene-based devices and to realize the potential and benefits to society of graphene, the wonder material.
Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, Center for Gallium Nitride, Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded the original study.