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Domestic firms team up with UK partner on graphene

By Angus Mcneice in London | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-18 07:27

China and the United Kingdom may soon become the world's biggest producers of graphene, following an agreement to manufacture it in eastern China.

UK-based advanced materials engineering company Versarien and partners in China have struck a deal to build a graphene factory in Jinan, East China's Shandong province.

Graphene is a highly conductive, incredibly strong, two-dimensional material made of carbon. The material was only recently discovered, and engineers around the world are looking into a range of commercial uses for it, including superfast smartphone chargers and filters that remove salt from seawater.

"It's a wonder product," said Neill Ricketts, Versarien's chief executive. "Graphene and its sister materials will eventually be used in pretty much everything you touch-packaging, transportation equipment, sporting goods, clothing and textiles."

Ricketts said the electric vehicle sector in China, which is the world's largest by production, will likely prove an important market for graphene and other advanced materials. The manufacture of graphene on Chinese soil is good news for domestic companies looking to place large orders.

Graphene has a very low density-storing one metric ton of the material requires the equivalent of 38,000 conventional oil drums-so transport across oceans is a challenge.

The new partnership will also set up a graphene research center, which together with the factory will be called the China-UK Jinan Graphene Industrial Park, or, informally, the Jinan Graphene Valley.

The entire project will cost around 55 million pounds ($75.7 million), which will be funded by three players in China-Jinan Qing Na Material Technology, Jinan Innovation Zone Administrative Committee, and Shandong Institute of Industrial Technology Fund.

"This is potentially a route to provide the biggest capacity for graphene in the world," Ricketts said. "It's a brand-new science. China is trying to take the lead, and is willing to invest heavily to create that lead."

China's interest in British research into the material was highlighted by President Xi Jinping's visit to the National Graphene Institute in Manchester during his 2015 state visit to the UK.

The first UK-China graphene conference was held in November in Chongqing, where British scientists demonstrated the latest breakthroughs in the commercialization of the material.

"Researchers are looking to use graphene to solve issues that have a big social impact-things like membranes that enable desalination, sensors for new types of communication, technologies that help combat cancer, diabetes and dementia," Ricketts said. "Collaboration with China is huge because they have the firepower and the market, and the UK has the experience and the knowledge to make it all happen."

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