graphene northern powerhouse

2D Materials at the Tipping Point in 2016 – World Economic Forum

WEF Top 10 Emerging Technologies

The World Economic Forum (WEF) released its list of the Top Ten Emerging Technologies for 2016 today.  One of the criteria was the likelihood that 2016 represents a tipping point in the deployment of each technology. So the list includes some technologies that have been known for a number of years, but are only now reaching a level of maturity where their impact can be meaningfully felt.

2D materials is a perfect example of this. Although graphene was first isolated at the University of Manchester with the Nobel Prize winning work in 2004 it is only now that the work of companies such as Thomas Swan, Haydale, and Talga Resources means that it can make the leap from a $10,000 per gram wonder material to a ubiquitous one that can find applications in everything from textiles to concrete. But we’re not there yet.

While the academic work on 2D materials is world class the UK has been traditionally poor at exploiting them whether through lack of interest, lack of investment or lack of expertise, but things may be about to change.

Made In Britain

The Northern Powerhouse region (most of the industrial manufacturing heartland of the UK north of Birmingham) has a number well-funded academic and translational institutions devoted to advanced materials. These include the National Graphene Institute, the Sir Henry Royce Institute, The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, Science City York , Newcastle Science Central, Sci-Tech Daresbury, the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre in Huddersfield and the Centre for Process Innovation.

This represents an opportunity for the North of England to use its traditional engineering and manufacturing expertise to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the increasing number of advanced materials from nanomaterials and quantum dots through to two dimensional materials such as graphene.

Jeremy Jurgens of WEF introduces the Top Ten Emerging Technologies with a call to arms “As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is vital that we develop shared norms and protocols to ensure that technology serves humanity and contributes to a prosperous and sustainable future.”

Linking People Not Places

Exploiting scientific excellence and catalysing high growth innovative businesses requires more than just academic excellence. It is not the primary role of academics to exploit emerging technologies and this requires the development of a community of entrepreneurs, existing businesses and funders willing to take the risks to which academic and publicly funded institutions are averse. The creation of innovative companies will be accelerated by combining commercial skills with academic excellence, and by bringing together experienced entrepreneurs backed with solid scientific support the risk of failure will be reduced.

While much of the discussion of the Northern Powerhouse to date has revolved around transport links, the economic impact of linking academic and entrepreneurial excellence has the potential to create a far greater economic impact.

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