Richard Branson excited about graphene for aircraft manufacturing

Photo: National Graphene Institute

Virgin Group’s Richard Branson believes graphene has the potential to revolutionise the airline industry.

The world’s first two-dimensional material – an allotrope of carbon – is capable of building lighter, safer and more efficient planes, Branson concluded after speaking to the National Graphene Institute.

“By incorporating the atomically-thin material into existing materials used to build planes, the safety and performance properties could be significantly improved while also reducing the environmental impact at the same time.”

The material, while light, is the strongest material ever tested. When researchers from the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in 2010 for their experiments with graphene, the Nobel announcement stated that a 1 square meter graphene hammock would support a 4 kg cat while weighing as much as one of the cat’s whiskers, at 0.77 mg.

“The addition of graphene to the plastic which holds together carbon fibre in the wings of a plane can stop water getting in and adding weight which increases fuel-burn. Similarly heavy copper wiring and heating coils which are a requirement for de-icing planes can be replaced with something much lighter and more efficient,” Branson said in a blog.

Reducing the carbon footprint of air travel is a focus for Branson, who says this is why he is “incredibly excited about graphene.”

“Reducing weight fuel burn and improving safety should all be at the top of the agenda for everyone in aviation. Just as aluminium and carbon fibre provided huge step-changes for the industry graphene could be the material that drives the next wave of much-needed innovation,” Branson said.