Please can you introduce us to Applied Graphene Materials (AGM).
AGM was established in 2010 by Professor Karl Coleman as a spin-out from the chemistry department of Durham University. As you would probably expect from its name, it manufactures graphene and supports its application in innovative new materials in many industries. Graphene is strong but lightweight, provides good barrier protection and has thermal and electrical connectivity properties too, so scientists are very excited about the incredible potential it has to improve infinite numbers of products.
So, AGM is quite a new venture?
Yes. The focus has been on getting the foundations right – R&D as well as developing methods to make it easier for customers to start incorporating graphene into their materials. We have over 120 active engagements with collaborators, so our pipeline of potential customers is strong. We’ve been very successful in attracting investment and have been listed on the London Stock Exchange since 2013 in the Alternative Investment Market.
Is graphene similar to graphite?
Graphene is an allotrope of carbon, a single layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal ring structure like a single layer of graphite. In fact, that’s how it was discovered by two researchers at Manchester University who removed single layers of the graphite from pencil written notes on paper using sticky tape. Graphene is most often made from graphite but that process can leave contaminants in the final product. In contrast, AGM manufactures graphene based on a unique method initially developed by Professor Coleman, producing it from simple, everyday products which are sustainable. Our proprietary ‘bottom-up’ method results in purer graphene which is suitable for more applications. The next step is to take this powder form of graphene and introduce it into a matrix; you can’t just tip it into whatever product you’re making. It needs the skill of our chemists to disperse it in a uniform and stable manner, and I think this is where our key strength as an organisation lies.
What are your customers interested in using graphene for?
One key area is adding graphene into coatings, such as industrial paints. For example, it can act as a better barrier for structures like ships that are exposed to high salinity and high humidity environments, making it harder for water to penetrate, resisting corrosion and reducing the frequency of ships coming back into dry dock for repainting. For coatings in clean room environments, like operating theatres and intensive care units, it has improved anti-static properties and reduces the use of harmful heavy metals that are currently added to paints to improve barrier properties. Other collaborators are interested in graphene’s high strength, low weight properties to reduce fuel consumption and increase performance. And you will soon see it in the non-safety critical composite materials used in aircraft passenger cabins; although it’s not currently used in the actual flying structure, both the Boeing Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 aircrafts are around 55-60 per cent composites.
Why did AGM choose Teesside?
Our location here is relatively close to Durham University where Professor Coleman is still based and, being a science and technology centre, it suits the needs of a chemical company. For example, there’s an inbuilt infrastructure that supports our staff in their everyday operations, eg. with nitrogen lines and permits for environmental compliance. It is also useful to be near other high-tech science and IT companies, as well as Sheffield and Manchester universities where we also have ongoing collaborations. The legacy of the chemical giant ICI in this area was attractive too, as there’s an abundance of chemical engineers and chemists here and these are two of our critical employee groups.
What changes have you been making at the Wilton Centre?
In recent years, much of the work has been R&D but now we’re scaling up production. Over the last two years, we have invested £750,000 into a new design to manufacture graphene on a much larger scale, with flexibility for future growth too. The team at the Wilton Centre has been very flexible and willing to work with us, planning new production facilities close to our original site to accommodate our needs both now and as we grow. This flexibility is important as there are many new applications for graphene coming through, including satellite and space use.
To find out more about the products that AGM offer visit our Products Page or call us on +44(0)1642 438214 or via our contact form