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Gloucestershire Business News

Okay, but what will graphene ever do for us?

Hailed as the new wonder material but baffling to most of us, it is indeed starting to appear that graphene sprinkled on anything can add a little practical and commercial magic.

Before you think we are in bed with Gloucestershire graphene champion Versarien let us make clear we have been resisting what has become an almost daily stream of announcements.

As newsworthy as most of them are - and what with the company's headquarters being in Cheltenham - we have published some, but have been holding back on the vast majority for fear of being caught up in some unnecessary name-calling.

But it has all become too much.

Two more releases landing this morning and we cracked (that and it's Friday), leaving us to wonder 'just what can't this stuff do?'.

"Graphene is set to change everything," according Neill Ricketts, the founder of Versarien and current ceo who found himself on a plane bound for China earlier this year with Theresa May on the back of his success.

"Graphene is quite incredible," said the Gloucestershire businessman and engineer. Most people have so far replied 'whatever'. The smart ones have invested.

This morning's news releases (yes, there were two) tell us the company has now launched Graphinks, a business which will sell a "range of proprietary graphene inks"!

Release two detailed its first customer - Arrow GreenTech Ltd, an Indian listed company.

It will use the inks for products including water-soluble film, security threads for banknotes and passports on a named-exclusive basis, tyre and associated rubber sectors, and there is talk of a manufacturing facility.

It's a long way from the company launched in a Forest of Dean garage back in 2011.

Today the business employs 100 employees and has interests around the world.

What is Graphene? The best we can do is repeat that "it is a single layer of graphite (one atom thick)".

Apparently it is the soft material found in pencil lead. Atoms are arranged in a honeycomb-like, hexagonal pattern, and therein lies its super strength.

It is, quite simply, one of the strongest materials in the known universe - with 100 times stronger than steel, but also incredibly flexible.

Read more: Engineering firm's new tech deal with mobile phone business 

Versarien has been working with cycling legends Team Sky to use graphene for cycling gear, but the uses go on. And on.

Thomas McMullan, writing on the website science website alphr, said: "Essentially, the advent of graphene has the scope to lead to a whole new category of material, not just one new material.

"Research is being done in areas as wide-ranging as biomedicine and electronics to crop protection and food packaging."

It could be used in drug delivery and to create a whole new generation of touch-screen technology as well as foldable and wearable smart devices.

It has "a range of potential applications" in industry and "enormous amount of composite uses".

It will, said Mr McMullan, "lead to whole new areas that would have previously been impossible. Could we see a whole new class of aerospace engineering emerge? What about augmented reality optical implants? From the looks of it, the 21st century is when we'll find out."

Here are a few other ideas to baffle you with from an article by Luke Dormehl's article on Digitaltrends.com

1. Imagine a flexible, transparent display or light strip that's just a single atom thick. (we wish we could. Mind-boggling).

2. Graphene can act as a superconductor, meaning that electrical current is able to flow through it with zero resistance.

3. Music loves listen up. Graphene may replace our existing speaker systems with non-moving speakers which create sound instead by varying the temperature of the air at a very high rate.

4. One to ponder: Two layers of graphene combined can withstand perforation by a diamond tip. (Uses on a postcard please).

5. Graphene membranes can be used to create a sieve. It can filter 85 percent of salt out of seawater and the colour out of Whisky.

6. Imagine if you could paint a building with a special coating that changes colour when it senses that the underlying structure is in need of repairs.

7. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have demonstrated that it can help detect cancer cells, too.

8. A Chinese company has built a battery pack which has a giant 4,800mAh capacity, and can reportedly charge from empty to full in just a quarter of an hour. Yes, it is also more robust than your regular lithium-ion battery.

9. Jog on. And lastly, before you start believing the myth, later this year you'll be able to buy running shoes made using graphene by sportswear brand inov-8. We would like to be mischievous and tell you they are rubbish, but they're reportedly "much stronger and more stretchy than traditional materials, making the shoes more resistant to wear and tear".

So, what will graphene ever do for us? Dare we say it, watch this space.

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