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Catching up with GRAPHENESENS: One company’s quest to push graphene from the lab to the market

We cover graphene a lot on CORDIS. And why wouldn’t we? It’s the thinnest known compound but also the strongest. Graphene promises to be a hugely important material in the twenty-first century and the EU has invested big in graphene research. In our special feature on graphene in issue 70 of Research*eu magazine, we featured GRAPHENESENS, an EU-funded project that is helping to take graphene from the lab and onto the market. For this month’s ‘Life After’, we got back in touch with Dr Pufinji Obene, Operations Director of Precision Varionic International and GRAPHENESENS coordinator.

FUNDAMENTAL RESEARCH

Life after...

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The GRAPHENESENS project originally focussed on graphene for contact sensors in the automotive industry, specifically sensors for the likes of antennas, accelerator pedals, encoders, motors and even, possibly, robotics. The benefit of adding graphene – even a very small amount – to usual production methods would see enormous benefits, such as the enhancement of the product’s lifespan, increased durability and overall cost reductions.

Every little step helps

When we last spoke to Dr Obene in early 2018, he was enthusiastically telling us about his plans for commercialisation. “Since then, for internal testing, we’ve manufactured a graphene-enhanced position sensor prototype based on an existing product and tested it for like-for-like and the results were comparable in every way,” comments Dr Obene. “For external testing, we manufactured 24 and 48 pulse encoder prototypes for Piher Sensing Systems, a major Spanish company manufacturing interconnect and cable manufacturers. The results show that only a few small improvements must be done to obtain functional prototypes that fulfil the current encoder specifications, i.e. graphene screen printing and graphene coating wipers.”

Dr Obene only predicts another six months of development to get these functional encoders ready for market introduction. In general, he’s also upbeat about graphene’s overall entry into the market as a crucial component of many everyday essential applications. “Graphene development into the mainstream market will be and is very challenging but now that all of the scientific hype is out of the way, the focus really is to look at the small step that will lead to larger and larger ones in terms of market penetration – and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

Whilst the main focus continues to be the automotive industry, Dr Obene previously told us that they were also interested in branching out to other sectors. Has there been any progress here? “We’re also now interested in the consumer sector, particularly using encoders as position sensors for joystick control and steering wheel control for the gaming market,” says Dr Obene. “I’m actually now in contact with several gaming companies in this regard and I hope something very positive will come from these discussions soon.”

On EU funding opportunities

Discussing the impact of EU funding, Dr Obene concluded: “The project funding derived from SME Instrument 1 really focuses on looking at the market and I believe that this is an important aspect that the EU should concentrate more on in terms of funding. We are currently considering SME Instrument 2 as a next step but we really want to get everything in place first. And we really need to thank the European Commission for its contribution to helping us to really understand the market and pinpoint the best opportunities – our work continues!”

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