New research partnership to build the future of England’s highways
Described as a “miracle” or “wonder” material, graphene has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of industries.
A building block of Graphite, which is used in pencil tips, graphene is a two-dimensional one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice.
Its unique properties make it the world’s lightest, strongest, thinnest and best heat-and-electricity-conducting material and also mean it is able to improve, even replace existing technologies, maybe even open up new markets.
Scientists around the world are still developing application areas for this “wonder” material, but already it has shown tremendous promise in industries like transport, medicine, electronics, energy, defence, and desalination to name a few.
From creating anti-corrosion coatings to improving the efficacy of sensors, electronics, solar panels and even ground-breaking biomedical applications in drug delivery and implants, graphene use cases expand every day.
In the UK, researchers are exploring a new application area for the material: on England’s highways.
Highways England, the authority responsible for maintaining the 4,300 miles of motorways and major roads across the country, has become the latest company to partner with the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) at Manchester University.
According to a release on the announcement, the collaboration will look into addressing common problems plaguing England’s road network, such as the deterioration of road and pavement surfaces.
With the “wonder” material, Highways England hopes to improve the country’s highway infrastructure and provide a better experience for motorists, also reducing road worker exposure.
“Adding graphene into maintenance and renewals operations has the potential to extend asset life and make the network perform at an industry-changing level,” the release said.
The material, it adds, will be incorporated into road surfaces and road markings. On top of improving user experience, the long-lasting materials could reduce roadworks and drive the development of a low-carbon and digital road network
“This latest partnership is a brilliant example of how graphene can be used to tackle problems faced by most people every day.
“This is further enabled by the facilities and capabilities we can provide to our industry partners, that accelerates the many small improvements that ultimately create an optimised product,” says James Baker, CEO of Graphene@Manchester.
“This is further enabled by the facilities and capabilities we can provide to our industry partners, that accelerates the many small improvements that ultimately create an optimised product.”
Paul Doney, Innovation Director at Highways England adds: “We are really excited about the opportunity to explore leading-edge materials and what this might lead to for our road network. GEIC is at the forefront, having made the discovery here in Manchester, and by building a collaboration with our operations teams who understand the challenges, we are looking to deliver improved safety and performance of our roads.”
Although researchers had always known of graphene’s existence, it was only in 2004 when it was finally successfully extracted from graphite by Professors Andrew Geim and Kostya Novoselov of Manchester University. The two men later won a Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering work.
The GEIC is an industry-led innovation centre of the university, designed to work in collaboration with industry partners to create, test and optimise new concepts for delivery to market, along with the processes required for scale-up and supply chain integration. It specialises in the rapid development and scale-up of graphene and other 2D materials applications.