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UK company to build graphene factory in China

By Angus McNeice in London | | Updated: 2018-01-17 03:45
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China and the United Kingdom may soon provide the biggest capacity in the world for 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 the graphene factory in Jinan, in 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 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, the Jinan Innovation Zone Administrative Committee, and the 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, and 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 graphene.

"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."

The graphene market in China is forecast to be worth $200 million in three years, making it the largest market in the Asia-Pacific region.

As of September, 2,950 Chinese companies have indicated they are exploring the use of graphene, according to government statistics.

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