Grapol: Graphene Polymer Nanocomposites
Graphene’s remarkable properties make it an attractive material for use in polymer composites. Its dispersion in commodity polymers will deliver consumer products with improved mechanical, thermal and electrical properties.
Realising this requires a fundamental understanding of graphene’s behaviour in polymer matrices, and its effect on polymer processing. It is these challenges which Grapol is tackling head on by developing high-volume, low cost, graphene engineering technologies which will enable rapid commercialisation.
Grapol can achieve this due to the range of expertise within the partnership which includes: carbon nanomaterials, polymer chemistry, rheology, theoretical polymer physics and manufacturing.
The potential areas for applications of polymer nanocomposites (a plastic containing a nanometre scale filler material) extend from aerospace and automotive industries to medical and consumer products. Such nanocomposites offer exciting step changes in both structural and functional material performance because the interfacial area between the nanofiller and polymer is greater by orders of magnitude when compared to traditional composites containing glass or carbon fibre filler. Graphene promises to be the ultimate nanofiller having outstanding and often unsurpassed electronic, mechanical and thermal properties. However, to date true commercial applications have yet to be realised or implemented due to lack of understanding in how the material and dispersions behave under melt conditions.
Consumer product applications are the focus of this project as they are early adopters of new technology and offer an ideal market for testing new developments. Melt processing is crucial in determining the performance of the final consumer product. The comparable length-scales between graphene nanofillers and the polymer chains provide a new challenge for composite formulation and processing: strong flows impact the stretching of polymer chains and the ordering, orientation and dispersion of the nanofiller. Control of these nanoscale phenomena by combining process-engineering technologies with new knowledge and methodologies from the chemical and physical sciences provides a platform for realising the commercial potential of graphene nanocomposites: enhanced mechanical, anti-static and barrier properties would deliver consumer benefits through better product performance and extended product life and business and environmental benefits through less raw material being consumed and transported.
The industrial partners Procter and Gamble (P&G), a global consumer goods company; Dyson, a domestic appliance technology company; and Durham Graphene Science (DGS), a large-scale producer of graphene will work directly alongside the academic partners in the formulation, processing and prototyping of the graphene composites to deliver maximum impact.
Grapol is a 4 year project sponsored by the EPSRC (grant EP/K016784/1).