Spin-off looks to join big time with silicon rival
A DURHAM University spin-out is preparing to produce an exciting new material on a larger scale after winning investment from Northstar Ventures.
The venture capital group has sunk £100,000 into Durham Graphene Science through its Finance for Business North East Proof of Concept fund, allowing the company to develop its patented method of manufacturing graphene on a large scale.
Graphene is a sheet of carbon one atom thick, whose conductive, thermal and mechanical properties have seen it talked about as a replacement for silicon in products such as transistors.
Durham Graphene Science filed a patent 18 months ago on a new method of creating graphene by assembling atoms within a reactor, and hopes this research will push it into the multi- billion pound worldwide composites market.
Durham Graphene Science won the Knowlege Transfer award at this year’s Blueprint Awards, which celebrate the region’s most promising university spin-outs.
Founder Dr Karl Coleman, who is employed as a reader in Durham University’s department of chemistry, forecasts that the business aims to reach turnover in excess of £4m in five years and amass a workforce of 12 to 15 people.
He said: “The composite market is enormous. In the UK alone it is worth close to half a billion pounds. It’s a lot more in the US. There are companies that make composites and carbon fibre that make several billion. You see it everywhere you want a lightweight, high-strength material.”
Scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, of the University of Manchester, won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on graphene, which could have a range of uses, including TV screens and fuselages on planes. Dr Coleman said the company is especially interested in providing companies with material to use as a strengthening filler in polymers and plastics.
He said: “What’s holding graphene back is there wasn’t really a decent way of producing it before. There are two ways of making the material. One is to take the larger material and make it smaller, in this case by stripping layers off graphite. Our approach is to assemble atoms into a graphene sheet. The reason we do this is that it’s more scaleable and we can produce larger amounts more easily.”
The company is currently operating out of the university, but hopes to move to move somewhere like NETPark once it starts hiring.