UCF Chemist, Company Make ‘Wonder Material’ Accessible

UCF Chemist, Company Make ‘Wonder Material’ Accessible

Richard Blair developed a clean process for “unlocking” graphene from its native graphite in his lab at UCF.

A UCF researcher has developed a proprietary method for making graphene  – an element that some have described as the “wonder material” of the century – accessible to industry.

The technique, which the university recently licensed to Orlando-based spinout company Garmor Inc., has the potential to transform manufacturing of everything from car bumpers and truck bed liners to airplanes and bridges.

Richard Blair, a chemist in UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, and Ph.D. graduate student David Restrepo used a combination of chemical and mechanical processes to break down graphite, like that found in pencil lead, into graphene.

“This is the first truly scalable approach to producing graphene products,”  said Blair.  “Manufacturers can make tons at a time.”

Graphene garnered worldwide attention in 2010 when two physics researchers from the University of Manchester in England were awarded the Nobel Prize for showing that the material, just one atom thick, has incomparable strength and elasticity, is able to conduct electricity as well as copper and heat better than any other material.

By adding a small amount of graphene during the production process, makers of plastics, rubber and metal can make their products far lighter and stronger.

Manufacturers have been hindered, however, by the excessive cost of making graphene  – up to $200,000 a kilogram – and the toxic chemicals usually required to separate it into useable pieces.

With Blair’s technology, Garmor is able to make a graphene additive for a fraction of the cost and market the product to makers of materials used in electrical, thermal and structural work.

“With the help of Drs. Blair and Restrepo, we are able to produce large volumes of graphene particles at a significantly reduced cost,” said Anastasia Canavan, Garmor CEO. “Using graphene as an additive for plastics and metals enables stronger, light-weight composite materials with potentially endless applications.”

Because graphene is an ultra-light, performance-enhancing material, manufacturers also stand to gain by reduced shipping costs.

“In the energy-conscious world in which we live, everyone is looking to lower their supply-chain costs,” said Canavan.

Garmor, which has already attracted $300,000 in funding from the Commercialization of Public Research’s Seed Capital Accelerator Program, is marketing a powder to manufacturers to produce graphene plastic and metal composites . The company is working closely with its partners to monitor performance and validate specifications before expanding its production capabilities with a new facility near Orlando International Airport in August.  Garmor, which has eight full-time employees, plans additional hiring after the move.