Graphene: Wonder Metal or Unwanted Cost?
Once hailed as the ‘Wonder Metal’, Graphene is now polarising scientists and industry leaders: could it revolutionise engineering, or is it more trouble than its worth?
What is Graphene?
Graphene is a form of carbon composed of a hexagonal lattice of atoms in a honeycomb structure, and is the world’s first 2D material. Hailed as the ‘wonder metal’, its many unique properties include:
200 times stronger than steel
Ultra-light and very flexible
Thinnest material possible – only one atom thick
One of few superconductors that can even block helium
Why is Graphene so Important?
The strongest material ever tested, it delivers more power and support in smaller volumes than any other metal. Scientists and industry leaders reveal the following ways that graphene has the potential to change the engineering industry for good:
Skills Shortages – Last year 22% of UK Manufacturing and Engineering businesses put skills shortages at the top of their agenda, and UK businesses across industries will need to train 1.8 million people by 2025 to fulfil labour demands. If businesses and industries increase their reliance on ‘wonder metals’ like graphene, the engineering industry will continually require broader ranges of skills. Currently untapped talent pools such as women and young people will be presented with opportunities to work on far-reaching projects and build successful and varied career paths in a fast-paced world, enhancing the attractiveness of the sector and helping to address the engineering skills shortage.
Innovation – The strong metal could be vital to the development of highly evolved technologies. The next few years could see the creation and mass-market adoption of high-capacity batteries, flexible screens and flexible, durable and semi-transparent mobile phones. Graphene could also transform the design and manufacture of aircraft wings, lightweight planes and electric performance vehicles. The increase of graphene use could revolutionise the ways that industries work and the quality of products and services that businesses can offer their customers.
Global Health & Wellbeing – Graphene could improve water purification technology in developing countries and provide more efficient desalination plants, delivering clean drinking water to millions of people globally. The technological advances brought about by graphene introduction could also see mass improvements to medical equipment, potentially saving and prolonging thousands of lives.
The Future of Engineering – The introduction of graphene to mainstream engineering would open up the world to a variety of new experimental metals that could also be manufactured more cheaply and efficiently, enabling the industry to innovate and produce higher quality products at a higher volume for a reduced cost. It could also revolutionise space travel and our understanding of the universe, after its properties were tested in micro-gravity this week. Professor Andrea Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer and Chair of the Management Panel for the Graphene Flagship states, ‘One of graphene’s potential uses is space applications, and this is the first time that graphene has been tested in space-like applications.’
Despite the potential benefits, industry leaders continue to worry that the metal currently costs a lot more money to implement than to continue to use other metals. However with the potential border restrictions and added taxes that Brexit may present to British industries, graphene could result in a dramatic cost reduction for many UK engineering businesses.
The engineering world is so far divided over graphene, and the next few months will prove pivotal to the use of the wonder metal and its short-term and long-term impact on the engineering industry.
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