The European Commission has awarded €1bn to researchers to find ways to exploit graphene, a strong, one-atom thick material that holds promise as a replacement for silicon.
The funding, which will be distributed over 10 years, will go to the Graphene Flagship, led by Professor Jari Kinaret, from Sweden's Chalmers University in Gothenburg. The research will "investigate and exploit" the key properties of graphene that make it a potential replacement, and in the nearer term a material that can be integrated with silicon.
Excitement about graphene stems from properties that make attractive in the field of industrial applications. Graphene is the thinnest "two-dimensional" material, an excellent electricity conductor, stronger than steel, harder than diamond and has ideal optical properties.
Applications for the material include electronic and optical devices, flexible electronics, wearable electronics and batteries.
The Graphene Flagship will co-ordinate 126 academic and industrial research groups across 17 countries and will have an initial budget of €54m. It was awarded the funds, along with the Human Brain Project (which focuses on developing a highly detailed model of the brain), as part of Europe's Future and Emerging Technologies competition.
The funding permits a broad area of research that, during a 30-month "ramp-up" phase, will cover ICT communications, physical transport, and applications of graphene in energy technology and sensors. However it appears as if the Flagship will attempt to avoid duplicating existing graphene research.
"Although the flagship is extremely extensive, it cannot cover all areas. For example, we don't intend to compete with Korea on graphene screens," Professor Kinaret said in a statement. "Graphene production, however, is obviously central to our project.”
The group plans to scale the research group to full size after the ramp-up phase. Industrial representatives from Nokia and Airbus will provide management support along with four rather important Nobel laureates that make up the Flagship's Strategic Advisory Council. These include Andre Geim (chairman) and Kostya Novoselov — the recently knighted Russian-born scientists credited with discovering graphene at the University of Manchester — German physicist, Klaus von Klitzing and French physicist Albert Fert.
Separately, the University of Cambridge announced last week that it would launch its own Graphene Centre on February 1, aimed at pushing out discoveries from the lab to industry.
The Cambridge Graphene centre has attracted £13m in financial support from the likes of Nokia, Dyson, Plastic Logic, Philips and BaE systems, with an additional £11m from the European Research Council funding will support the Graphene Institute in Manchester, and Lancaster University.