Graphene, the wondrous material that was set to revolutionize the world as we know it has still not exactly taken off. However, that is not because the material didn’t have the potential we initially thought it would, but because we are yet to find a feasible path to commercialization. Six years ago, the European Union invested €1 billion into graphene, hoping that they would become the “Silicon Valley” of this novel material. Called “The Graphene Flagship”, the 10-year plan sought to bring together multiple academic and industrial research institutes from around Europe, finally achieving the commercial breakthrough for the stuff.
Simply put, graphene is the strongest, most electrically and also thermally conductive, and most flexible material to have been discovered (in 2004). Combining the above features has created a fully fledged hype around it, as there’s no other material that even comes close to its physical characteristics. The Graphene Flagship was created to explore what is beyond the hype, so there have been nine companies that spawned through the initiative, developing 46 innovative products that use the novel material one way or another. However, and in spite the efforts of the initiative, we can all deduce that there has been no real commercialization of graphene yet, and with just four years remaining, it is unlikely that there will be any until the end of the project.
Critics of The Graphene Flagship claim that the people behind the project are simply too focused on securing research funding than anything else, so they are not really promoting the commercialization of graphene they way they were meant to. The Flagship defends these bold statements by presenting 17 products that have hit the market, including a flexible wireless biometric sensor, and a graphene-coated motorcycle helmet. Still though, many of those have been already retracted from the shelves, so clearly, something is not working right here. Graphene is still the most promising material out there, and our inability to commercialize it only highlights the fact that engineering isn’t always straight-forward, and neither is business.
Image by seagul from Pixabay