Page 51 - Packaging News Magazine Nov-Dec 2018
P. 51

November-December 2018
Victoria has become a powerhouse
for Australian graphene research, with Imagine Intelligent Materials opening the country’s first graphene factory
in Geelong in 2016 and the Victorian Government this year chipping
in to help found the Australian Graphene Industry Association.
AUSTRALIA is a leader in graphene research investment, with almost $30 million in grants from the Australian Research Council going into the sector since 2009. 49.5 per cent of this funding went to Victorian universities.
“The Victorian Government has recognised the importance of graphene to the state’s economy, and as a result has provided the initial seed funding for the AGIA,” says Chris Gilbey, AGIA chair. “It also understands that new businesses will be spun out from universities in the field of advanced materials and that the Australian Research Council grants are likely to be a predictor of new business formation in Victoria.”
According to Gilbey, the AGIA will provide a focal point for anyone with an interest in graphene, including industry, government, academia and the public.
“The AGIA will not only be an information source on every aspect of the commercial potential for graphene, it will also link companies to future employees, venture capital to start ups, and researchers to industry,” he says. “The association will run an annual global conference and local information sessions relevant to the growing interest from advanced manufacturers into graphene.
“It will also facilitate the development of the industry by providing a jobs portal on the AGIA website, which will be operational before the end of the year.”
Bronwyn Fox, director of the Swinburne Manufacturing Futures Research Institute, says graphene is not easy to make or work with.
“It requires wet labs, and expensive testing equipment. Start-up companies interested in commercialising graphene will need access to labs and equipment in order to develop products.
“Therefore it is logical to expect that entrepreneurial graduates will emerge from universities that have been successful in researching the material, and that when they form new companies, they will remain reliant upon access to the facilities offered by universities,” she says.
tle,” he says. “You don’t get all these properties together – you optimise it for individual properties.”
High-barrier packaging is one area in which graphene can excel, ac- cording to Aitchison. “The theoreti- cal graphene that is one atom thick is the perfect gas barrier – nothing gets through,” he says. “You can tune ma- terials such as graphene oxide to act as barriers in certain ways, you can stack them like a deck of cards. It’s a long and tortuous path for anything to get through graphene.”
One study, published in the jour- nal ACS Nano, found that a polymer incorporating a single layer of gra- phene, when used in packaging, was a million times better at keeping out water than the same polymer with- out the graphene – less than 0.000001 grams per square metre was able to penetrate the material each day.
Though single-atom graphene is expensive and hard to make, coatings made from layers of small graphene sheets can be employed to selectively allow different substances to pass through it while blocking others.
“That means it can go into a lot of packaging for perishables – if you want to keep a certain amount of hu- midity in but let gases out for fruit packaging, for example, or keep car- bon dioxide in soft drinks when you don’t care if a bit of water gets in or out,” says Aitchison.
As graphene is highly conduc- tive of both electricity and heat, it’s also suitable for anti-static and heat sensitive packaging for appli- cations such as electronics and bat- tery cases.
“There are a few other materials around with similar heat conductivi- ty, but it can replace expensive metal pastes for bleeding heat out of elec- tronic packaging,” says Aitchison. “There’s a mobile phone coming out from Huawei which uses graphene films to suck heat out of the processor so the phone doesn’t get hot.”
Because graphene is so thin, it’s also transparent – which can be im- portant for aesthetics. “This means you can make a good barrier materi- al and replace things like metal,
which are fantastic barrier materials but almost completely opaque.
“Graphene is also cheap – the raw material cost is very low and you can use very little of it. The real cost is processing – it takes a lot of time and energy to put graphene onto some- thing else,” says Aitchison. “The more perfect you want it, the more difficult it is to make and therefore the more expensive.”
Graphene’s high electrical conductiv- ity means it can be employed in smart manufacturing setups for Industry 4.0. “One thing you can do is incorpo- rate it into tools, dies and robots to give them better sensor capabilities – the ability to measure the entire body of a robot rather than just point sen- sors, for example,” says Aitchison.
It’s not just robots, however: gra- phene can also be used for smart materials, incorporating sensing into the packaging itself, says Aitchison. “The raw material itself will behave like sensors and com- munication devices, so you put raw material in one end and it’s spitting feedback back to you.
“This shifts manufacturing from machines that know what they’re doing to materials that know what’s being done to them,” he says.
Because it is so conductive and so sensitive to changes in chemicals and structure, graphene packaging could sense processes in real time. “So if you’re making a package, it can tell you if you’ve made it correct- ly and if there are any defects as you are making it,” says Aitchison.
“It’s a forward-looking idea, but we’re working on it and I’m sure oth- er people are as well.” ■
Graphene has the capacity to change the face of almost every manufacturing industry in
the world.”

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