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First Graphene project finds concrete uses for difficult-to-use wonder material

Tom Austin-Morgan

A small amount of graphene can return recycled concrete to near-new functional capability, according to PureGraph developers First Graphene
A small amount of graphene can return recycled concrete to near-new functional capability, according to PureGraph developers First Graphene

First Graphene Ltd has been working with the University of Warwick on a project where graphene is being added to thermoplastic systems and engineering polymers to improve their properties.

The firm is based at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre at the University of Manchester, but this project is being carried out at Warwick Manufacturing Group, which has strong links to world-leading companies such as Jaguar Land Rover.

Some nanomaterials, including graphene, are difficult to disperse in certain materials. First Graphene has overcome this problem by developing its PureGraph range of powders and aqueous pastes in various platelet sizes that enable better dispersion in a broad range of materials. In addition, the PureGraph materials are supplied with a level of functionalisation that enables efficient dispersion in a wide range of polymers and materials, without further processing steps.

From the initial results it is claimed that PureGraph can be easily dispersed into polymers with good flowability and processability. When added to engineering thermoplastics, PureGraph is said to improve their thermal conductivity and mechanical properties such as tensile strength and impact resistance, as well as weight reduction, and can even form barrier protection against water, fire, chemicals and wear.

Ease of processing

Professor Tony McNally is the lead researcher on the project and director of the International Institute for Nanocomposites Manufacturing at Warwick Manufacturing Group. He said: “We have been very pleased with the way that First Graphene’s products are easy to process, integrating effectively into the engineering polymers we are using for our study.”

Another outcome from the research is that PureGraph can be incorporated into engineering plastics at high levels – up to 30% by weight – without significant increases in viscosity.

First Graphene’s CEO Michael Bell said the company was also very pleased with the progress: “We appreciate the valuable scientific expertise from Prof McNally’s team and will apply the learning from the project at the earliest possible convenience as we continue the commercialisation of our products in thermoplastic systems.”

The results the project is generating are allowing First Graphene to diversify into additional sectors including automotive, aerospace, boat and wind-turbine blade manufacturing and multiple engineering applications.

Bell added: “A number of these products are already in commercial production, including graphene-enhanced swimming pools, footwear, fire-retardant paints and wear liners for mining applications.”

One of the big areas of use that First Graphene envisages for PureGraph is in the industrial and construction industries. One of the findings is that small additions of graphene can return recycled concrete to near-new functional capability, which could eliminate waste and improve the circularity of concrete materials across the globe.

Cutting emissions

In addition, Bell said: “Recently patented technology developed in conjunction with First Graphene provides a means to manufacture graphene and graphite from petroleum feedstock, with green hydrogen as a by-product. This technology offers a way for oil producers to move towards the electric vehicle market and eliminate harmful carbon dioxide emissions.”

The biggest challenge for many graphene producers has been delivering consistency of quality and supply volume. With access to significant amounts of high-purity graphite, and its process that results in little or no wastage, First Graphene is now capable of meeting quality and quantity demands for industrial applications.

“A major challenge was convincing manufacturers that First Graphene could meet demand,” revealed Bell. “However, this has been overcome with a broad range of commercial applications already in the market or nearing product launch.” 

First Graphene is continuing to work with customers in coatings, elastomers, composites and concrete and cement to develop graphene-enhanced products that take performance to new levels, opening up new applications and the potential for innovative products across multiple markets.

Bell said: “This has enabled First Graphene to rapidly transition from a period of development to a stronger commercial focus over the past year, while OEMs and end users have also reached commercial readiness and launch for various graphene-enhanced products.”

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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