Air pollution continues to be a growing worldwide concern. An increasing number of studies by the World Health Organisation are showing causal links between particulates and lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases and premature deaths. Researchers associated with the University of Manchester, UK, have developed novel graphene-based sensors to measure air quality; and they could soon enter mass production.
The University of Manchester holds an excellent reputation in the world of graphene, and boasts a state-of-the art research institute: The National Graphene Institute. In 2010, two University researchers won the Nobel Prize for their work on the mechanical strength of graphene. Now, one of their spin-out companies, Riptron Ltd, has forged a new partnership with Chinese corporation Tungshu Optoelectronics, and the two have developed new graphene sensors capable of measuring air quality.
Graphene is a unique and highly-versatile 2D material. It is commonly used in sensors, where its electrical and mechanical properties can be exploited and adapted for a range of uses: biosensors, temperature sensors, piezoelectric sensors - to name a few. Comprised of a single-layer of graphite, graphene combines superior tensile strength, a large surface-to-volume ratio and excellent conductivity; readily lending itself to the development of sturdy yet lightweight sensors over a multitude of industries.
A sheet of graphene is only a single layer of atoms thick. This means that every atom is exposed to its environments and able to sense changes in its surroundings. A sheet also holds defects that can improve the absorption efficiency on the sheet’s surface, allowing changes to be detected more willingly. Graphene can also be manipulated as a semiconductor. By introducing a bandgap to the 2D layer, a clear distinction between “on” and “off” states can be produced; again a useful property for the development of sensors.
The project is driven by the University’s Intellectual Property arm, UIMP, and Graphene Enabled – the University’s “helping-hand” initiative for graphene-based start-ups. The investors will place nearly £1 million into Riptron Ltd to support the project, lending their expertise and reputation in the graphene industry to support and advance the mass production of sensors.
We are very excited about the new collaboration between The University of Manchester and Tunghsu Optoelectronic. We look forward to working with our new partners
Professor Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manchester
Tungshu Optoelectronics, who belong to The Tungshu Group, is a well-established leader in China’s graphene industry. Their portfolio already includes graphene anti-coating systems, graphene-based lithium-ion batteries, graphene energy-saving lighting and graphene thermal management systems. Working alongside The University of Manchester, and Drs Kumar and Migliorato, the new graphene air quality sensors will be added to their repertoire.
“I believe working together we can provide a technology solution for real-time air-quality mapping to help the local governments introduce new levels of environment, health and safety regulations,” states Dr. Kumar.
According to the World Health Organisation, a staggering 91% of the world’s population lives in places where the air quality exceeds guidelines. Smart sensors such as these could provide real, tangible insight into air quality across the world, and feed invaluable data to combat global pollution issues.