Celebrating Manchester’s pioneering graphene entrepreneurs

Winners of the Masood Entrepreneurship Centre’s recent Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise competitions are developing innovative ventures in Manchester

With the lifting of campus access restrictions for semester one, we had the first opportunity earlier this month to present trophies to the winning teams from both the 2020 and 2021 Eli and Britt Harari Graphene Enterprise competitions. The trophies were presented by Tony Walker, the Deputy Director of the Masood Entrepreneurship Centre , and Ray Gibbs, Commercialisation Director at The University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC).

University physics alumnus, Dr. Eli Harari, the founder of Sandisk, funded the competition prize at Manchester with the aim of developing scientific entrepreneurs who are breaking new ground by developing the commercial prospects of graphene and related 2D materials.

The award winners then continue to be assisted in developing their ventures by the University, supported by the Masood Entrepreneurship Centre and GEIC, providing technical advice and facilities, business guidance and mentoring and support with securing additional funding.

Two winning teams have recently been supported in securing funding from InnovateUK's Innovation-to-Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) programme. Graphene Green Concrete Limited, founded by Robert Ataria and Niting Zeng and the team from CATALight 2D Technologies both secured 30,000 of funding to ’get out of the lab’ and validate their commercially-promising ideas in the marketplace.

Graphene Green Concrete Ltd. aim to make high performance graphene recycled aggregate concrete. This transformative approach will look to develop formulations for specific construction applications, to drastically improve the rate of using recycled aggregate concrete in high value applications without environmentally demanding processes of carbon footprint for new constructions.

Robert commented; "The ability to engage in a proper market validation journey of any innovation with stakeholders in the sector is critical for a successful start-up . Graphene Green Concrete Limited is currently in discussions with a key customer about a demonstration project using our innovation as a first step toward commercialization."

CATALight 2D Technologies are using 2D materials to reduce energy consumption during wastewater treatment. By using natural sunlight to degrade pollutants in wastewater, the so-called 'photocatalysis' mechanism, minimum or no extra energy input is needed by their device. Integrating novel 2D materials, this product reduces costs in many aspects of the treatment process including electricity usage, machinery investment, maintenance, and construction activities, hence reducing the overall energy consumption and operating costs in the water sector.

Niting told us: " The Eli Harari Graphene Enterprise Award has been fantastic in allowing us to take the biggest step forward in developing our idea. We are now in the process of extensive market discovery, establishing conversations with potential collaborators in the field and preparing for our future field test. We are very grateful for the opportunity provided to us. With the support of innovative ecosystem in GEIC, we will continue our market discovery and technical development over the next year and continue marching forward following the stunning path of the innovation community at the University of Manchester".

Scott Dean, a Ph.D. candidate at the Nati onal Graphene Institute , and his team at Graphene Tra ce have been using the next generation of nanotechnology, graphene and two-dimensional materials to develop smart fabric, most recently to develop a smart pressure sensing mat for wheelchair seats, that alerts the user to reposition when they may be at risk of developing a pressure ulcer. The application would be cost effective, flexible, accessible and designed to be used continuously, providing wheelchair users with comfort and peace of mind. In June 2021 the company were awarded a feasability grant by the Alan Turing Institute in collaboration with the Casson group at The University of Manchester.

Winner of the First prize of 50,000 in 2021, Dr. Vivek Koncherry and his team from Space Habitat Architecture showcased a small demonstration model at the recent Conservative Party conference in Manchester. Vivek was also visited at the University by Minister for Investment at the Department for Business, Lord Grimstone.

This venture aims to utilise the unique properties of graphene and research expertise in advanced robotics at The University of Manchester to develop an architectural scale-model of a proposed design for permanent human settlements on the Moon and Mars. Materials like graphene and composites will play a key role in space technology due to their damage tolerance, lightweight, strength, radiation shielding, thermal and electrical conductivity.

Vivek is now involved in planning the development of the full scale graphene composite model by December 2021 and exploring government grants and other funding. He commented: "We are developing a scaled prototype of a pressure vessel designed as part of an LEO space station module using advanced materials including Graphene and composites. Daniel Inocente and his team at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), the global architectural firm behind the world's tallest building, are designing the space architecture concept and supporting this effort by developing design and engineering solutions. The project aims to produce a proof of concept within three months and then move on with further funding to test and validate the space structure made using robotics and advanced two-dimensional materials."

SOM-SPACESTATION Image Credit SOM, Luxigon and University of Manchester.