Thomas Swan - Trinity College Dublin


Nanotechnology research partnership creates global 
business opportunity in graphene production

Exceptionally light, 100 times stronger than steel, highly flexible and an exceptionally good conductor of electricity, graphene is a true wonder material. A sheet of carbon just one atom thick, it has the potential to revolutionise many consumer and industrial products, opening the doors to everything from foldable touch screens for mobile phones and super-protective coatings for ships to faster broadband and high capacity batteries. Since its discovery in 2004, however, chemical manufacturers across the globe had tried unsuccessfully to produce hiqh quality graphene in volume. 

Thomas Swan, the first company in the UK to make commercial quantities of single-wall carbon nanotubes, was one. So when managing director Harry Swan and Trinity College Dublin's Professor of Chemical Physics, Jonathan Coleman, met at a nano materials conference in 2011 their conversation quickly turned to the quest for nano technology's Holy Grail. 

A few months later, in 2012, Thomas Swan's Advanced Materials Division (AMD) entered into a directly funded collaborative project with TCD in association with the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN). Thomas Swan invested €750,000 in the two year programme and has since embarked on a further year-long collaboration within the Science Foundation Ireland funded AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) centre, which is housed at CRANN in TCD.

Crucially, the researchers achieved their goal of perfecting a process to generate pristine graphene materials in volume in less than two years. Their now patented ground-breaking achievement is being used by Thomas Swan to make graphene products in commercial quantities and the license agreement between TCD and Thomas Swan gives the UK company the chance to become a world-leader in graphene production.

Harry Swan observes: “It was scientific excellence that first attracted us to working with Professor Coleman and we have developed an excellent working relationship with both him and the AMBER research team. We have also been impressed by the speed at which the project progressed from initial discussions through to product launch in early 2014.”

Professor Coleman says: “This shows how industry and academic collaboration can lead to research of the highest calibre, with real commercial applications." Dr. Andy Goodwin, Commercial Director of Thomas Swan's AMD, also notes that the work involved combining AMBER's academic expertise with the wealth of experience provided by Dr Keith Paton, a Thomas Swan process engineer and researcher who was embedded full-time with the Irish research team, thus ensuring alignment of the research with the company's strategy.

Publish date: 2014