by Jari Kinaret
The FET Flagship Pilot on graphene and related two-dimensional materials targets a revolution in information and communication technology, with impacts reaching into most areas of the society. Our mission is to take graphene and related layered materials from a state of raw potential to a point where they can revolutionize multiple industries - from flexible, wearable and transparent electronics to high performance computing and spintronics. This will bring a new dimension to future technology – a faster, thinner, stronger, flexible, and broadband revolution. Our program will put Europe firmly at the heart of the process, with a manifold return on the investment in terms of technological innovation and economic exploitation.
Artistic impression of a corrugated graphene sheet. Illustration by Jannik Meyer.
The material with most superlatives
Graphene is single layer of carbon atoms with a host of properties ideal for applications. One of the commonly occurring forms of carbon, graphite, is a stack of graphene layers, and has been used in a number of applications for hundreds of years, while monolayer graphene is still mainly confined to academia. The overall goal of the pilot is to change this and harness the potential of graphene and related materials to revolutionize information and communication technology (ICT) and find new applications in other areas.
Since the start of the graphene revolution in 2004, numerous application concepts based on graphene have been demonstrated. In just a few years, high-frequency graphene transistors have reached performance that rivals that of the best semiconductor devices, despite the fact that graphene electronics is still very much at its infancy. In optoelectronics, touch screens are expected to be one of the first commercial applications, partly because the materials choice is quite limited: the screens must exhibit both electrical and optical functionalities, and very few materials conduct both electricity (like metals) and light (like window glass).
Despite the great progress in graphene science and technology during the past six years, the field is still very young and many challenges remain. Some of the challenges are fundamental: due to the unique structure of graphene, many of the possibilities it offers are still poorly understood, and their analysis requires sophisticated methods; to quote the Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek, “graphene is probably the only system where ideas from quantum field theory can lead to patentable innovations”.
Industrialization of graphene technology
Graphene research is an example of translational nanotechnology where discoveries in academia are rapidly transferred to applications. The concept is typically associated with biomedicine but the principle can be applied to ICT as well: the most striking example is giant magnetoresistance that moved from an academic discovery to a dominant information storage technology in a few years. Similarly, graphene has the potential to make a profound impact in ICT in the short and long term: Integrating graphene components with silicon-based electronics, and gradually replacing silicon in some applications, allows not only substantial performance improvements but, more importantly, enables completely new applications.
Graphene represents a disruptive technology shift, and, as such, faces great uncertainties and challenges. A concentrated effort can address all parts of the value chain and catalyze the technology shift that no single player or branch would dare to undertake on their own. The branching of the value chain – usage of same materials or components in different applications – is another strength of such approach. It allows the actors to pursue both the low-hanging fruits, the first applications, and a larger strategic goal.
Implementation of the FET Flagship pilot
The pilot consortium involves nine academic and industrial partners in seven EU member states. They carry the main responsibility for preparing the full flagship, and engaging the large European graphene community in the project. The flagship consortium is still developing: presently over 470 research groups have expressed interest in joining the flagship. The prospective flagship partners represent a wide range of academic and industrial activities that come together to face the challenges of creating a major technology shift in ICT.
EU member states have recognized the potential of graphene, as demonstrated by the announcement made by George Osbourne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom. “We will invest £50 million in a Graphene Global Research and Technology Hub to commercialise graphene. This will capitalise on the UK's international leadership in the field. It will act as a catalyst to spawn new businesses, attract global companies and translate the value of scientific discovery into wealth and job creation for the UK”. The FET Flagship will do this on the European level.
Jari Kinaret, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden