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UK Government reveals £50 million graphene investment plan

The UK government has finally revealed how the £50 million earmarked for investment in graphene will be spent. The pledge of investment was made towards the end of last year as a way to secure the UK as a hub of excellence in graphene research. However, until now the exact spending plans had not been revealed, leaving potential investors nonplussed as to where the bulk of the money would go. The spending plans announced also give details of additional funding strands that could be made available for graphene research and engineering.

The investment is rivalled by similar, but more sizeable, government investment plans in South Korea, and is intended to establish the UK as one of the global hubs of graphene development. Funded through the Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board, the four investment strands are expected to help finance the growth of a strong and innovative community of scientists and researchers.

Central to the graphene hub is to be a national institute of graphene research and commercialisation activities, for which The University of Manchester has been confirmed as the single supplier invited to submit a proposal for funding. The new £45 million national institute, £38 million of which will be provided by the UK Government is expected to be a world-class shared facility for graphene research and commercialisation activities and will be accessible by both researchers and business.

Speaking of the announcement, Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said,

This significant investment in graphene will drive growth and innovation, create high-tech jobs and keep the UK at the very forefront of this rapidly evolving area of science. With a Nobel Prize and hundreds of published papers under their belts, scientists in the UK have already demonstrated that we have real strengths in this area. The graphene hub will build on this by taking this research through to commercial success.

The national institute, partly funded by The University of Manchester, will provide access to specialist facilities and equipment which enable the simulation of manufacturing processes. The University of Manchester is an acknowledged research leader in graphene research with tens of thousands of citations for graphene papers, and is the academic home Nobel Laureates, and now Knights Batchelors, Professor Sir Andre Geim and Professor Sir Kostya Novoselov, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for demonstrating the remarkable properties of graphene.

Professor Andre Geim said:

Creating a National Graphene institute here at The University of Manchester would allow our world-class scientists and researchers to further explore the limitless potential of graphene. To have such a facility here is a testament to the expertise at the University and will offer fantastic opportunities for Manchester researchers to work closely with industry and business.

EPSRC Chief Executive, Professor David Delpy, said:

Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, said:From the first grant of just over £500,000 in August 2001 which led to the demonstration of graphene, to a grant of more than £5 million awarded in October 2009 to investigate the potential of the material, EPSRC directly funded the research which led to the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics being awarded to Professor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov. This new investment will help accelerate commercialisation and open up new opportunities for growth. The applications for commercial use of graphene are vast, including the creation of new materials and the manufacture of innovative electronics. The £50 million in additional funding is an important step in ensuring we can reap the benefits of those applications.

The race to be the first country to produce commercial products is well and truly on.

Technology innovation – and, in particular, the commercialisation and exploitation of innovation – is absolutely vital for the UK’s economic future, and to improve our quality of life. Establishing this Institute of Graphene Research will help to ensure that we capitalise on the UK’s great strength in graphene research by supporting the development of applications for the technology. This will drive economic growth and create high-tech jobs.

In addition to the £38 million government investment in the National Graphene Institute, a further £12 million is available from the UK Government to invest in research equipment related to graphene. The funding from EPSRC will seek to finance equipment that can be used across several disciplines and research groups and will be accessible to business.

To top the £50 million investment there is also to be £10 million of investment made available from EPSRC’s research budget to support graphene engineering research, and to accelerate the generation of novel devices, technologies and systems. It is hoped that this will stimulate growth and strengthen the UK position in relation to European initiatives with potential for financial leverage.  A further investment of around £10 million will also be spent on an innovation centre to focus on the market development and exploitation of emerging graphene technologies. It is expected that this money will be jointly raised by the EPSRC, TSB and by business. The centre will help to accelerate the development, application and exploitation of new graphene technologies, in order for them to realise their full commercial and

economic potential.

Professor Sir Peter Knight, President of the Institute of Physics, said:

We welcome the Government’s commitment to additional investment in the science base. Graphene is a great success story for British science and an outstanding example of the value achievable from the application of physics.

The invitation to bid for equipment funding and engineering research grants will be available from early February. The business focused innovation centre will aim to support the early stages of technology development and application and is expected to be launched in late 2012/ early 2013.

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