Graphene conference calls for government support for advanced materials

The potential for a next generation material to be used to revitalise Australia’s manufacturing industry, and grapple with climate change at the same time, was the focus of discussions at the Graphene + Smart Cities Conference in Melbourne.

Held at Swinburne University of Technology on November 19, the conference assembled those who are exploring the application of graphene to engineering issues such as designing low-carbon cities of the future, as Chris Gilbey, chairman of the Australian Graphene Industry Association told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“The fundamental issue which we addressed was how climate change can potentially be mitigated through the introduction of graphene enabled materials into products.”

With the manufacturing of concrete being the most significant non-energy source of carbon dioxide, finding a way to reduce the use of this material will be critical to the sustainability of the construction and other industries. Graphene, which can be made from eucalyptus, among other sources, represents one way out of carbon emissions that preserves the quality of life society has become accustomed to.

“The human race is not going to suddenly go back to the stone age – not willingly anyway – and just stop having smart phones or having buildings and go back to living in grass huts,” said Gilbey. “What’s important is that we figure out how to solve these problems.”

Already, graphene is being used not only in construction, but in the manufacture of advanced electronics, renewable energy technologies, and water filtration. What’s missing, said Gilbey, is a government strategy to enable Australian manufacturers make the most of the material.

“We need to get governments involved and alert to the opportunity and potential to incentive business that develop advanced materials using graphene to build the smart cities of the near future.”

Gilbey noted that governments could require that government buildings be constructed with “smart” building products utilising advanced materials, such as those made by Gilbey’s company, Imagine Intelligent Materials. This would incorporate graphene into supply chains at a low cost.

Although graphene has only been widely known since its initial discovery in 2004, the potential for the material is huge, said Gilbey, especially when compared with other materials.

“It took something like 90 years for aluminium to go from it’s first discovery to being commercialised, and we’re already putting products in the market with graphene,” said Gilbey. “What we need is to move much faster and we need to do it nationally with the intent and participation of government so that we create incentives.”