It’s Snowing Graphene


Head Graphene

I woke up this morning to find graphene was ubiquitous, even displacing snow as the main topic of conversation. I’m getting emails from sports stores and even the BBC breakfast news was full of it, although tempering the hype with the question ‘Is graphene really a wonder-material?’ before concluding “The miracle material will soak up a lot of money but, taking a long view, it’s unlikely that much will be wasted.”

A second article takes the typically British view that although we invented it (or more correctly, its properties were discovered in Britain by a couple of Russian emigres) it will end up being commercialised abroad, just like democracy, the jet engine, computers, industry etc etc etc. The evidence for this comes from an analysis of graphene IP which shows UK entities lagging badly behind China, the US and Korea.

Nationality Number of graphene patent publications
Chinese entities    2,204
US entities    1,754
South Korean entities    1,160
United Kingdom entities    54

Is this true? Perhaps the picture is not as grim as the IP statistics make out. The UK has a number of companies producing decent quality graphene – a prerequisite for any applications – and the history of nanotechnology shows us that filing huge numbers of patents is no guarantee of commercial success.

What is clear, however, is that other countries woke up to the possibilities of graphene long before the award of a Nobel Prize woke up Britain’s dozy bunch, resulting in much more funding for entities in the rest of the world.

For the UK, and the rest of Europe to capitalise on its word class research infrastructure, politicians need to be much more proactive about stimulating technology spin outs, or ‘gambling with public money’ as it is known in the corridors of power. While governments are wary of picking winners, moving from squandering to gambling might be a step in the right direction.