Graphene seems to be making headlines across various industries and Highways England has also joined in. They are partnering with the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) in Manchester to investigate the use of graphene on surfaces. The idea is to find out whether adding graphene to roads and pavements could result in decreased deterioration.

It all started when Prof Sir Andre Geim and Prof Sir Kostya Novoselov first isolated the material at Manchester University in 2004. GEIC opened in December 2018 to specialise in the rapid development and upscaling of graphene and other applications for 2D materials.

Partnering For The Future

Highways England is responsible for the motorways and major A roads in the UK. The network of roads reportedly carries four million journeys over 4,300 miles every single day. Considering all that traffic, especially trucks and heavy equipment, it’s no surprise that many roads have deteriorated over time. 

That all can change though as the GEIC says that adding graphene into maintenance and renewals operations could extend the lifespan of road surfaces. It can make the network perform at an ‘industry changing’ level helping to minimise maintenance cost and time.

More Durable Roads

With that in mind, the partnership will assess the benefits of adding graphene into road surfaces and markings from an operational point of view and that of road users. It could ultimately lead to stronger, longer-lasting materials that will undoubtedly reduce the number of roadworks while improving journeys for road users.

A Word From The Partners

According to a statement from James Baker, CEO Graphene@Manchester; “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.”

Paul Doney, innovation director at Highways England added that “We are really excited about the opportunity to explore leading-edge materials and what this might lead to for our road network.”

Graphene Discovery

“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.”

What Exactly Is Graphene?

Without going into all the technical jargon, graphene is a form of carbon, like diamonds and graphite. While it may have the same atoms, they are arranged differently (hexagonal) which gives it many unique qualities. Graphene is so thin that it is considered a 2-Dimensional material and is actually more conductive than copper.

Despite only gaining popularity in commercial applications during the last decade, crystal graphene has already made a mark on the industry. The “wonder material” has a tensile strength of 130 GPa (gigapascals) making it harder than diamonds and more than 100 times stronger than the toughest steel.

While it may be incredibly strong, it is surprisingly flexible, transparent seemingly impermeable to most gases and liquids. As such, Helium with only two protons can’t even pass through it. Are we surprised this material is considered a modern marvel?

Potential Applications Of Graphene

The tremendous potential of graphene extends well beyond the norm. If it only had one special characteristic, we would still applaud the capabilities but considering its versatility, scientists have widened their scope.

Below is a list of potential applications of graphene and please note that some may still be in the research and development stage:

  • Flexible electronics (wearables, smartphones, televisions)
  • More efficient solar cells or photovoltaics
  • Improved semiconductors
  • Advanced water filtration
  • Use alongside carbon fibre for engineering bone tissue
  • Protective coating in aviation
  • Faster charging batteries
  • Reinforced concrete for better construction

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