Disruptive Optoelectronic Manufacture using Graphene

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering Computer Science and Maths


Semiconductor devices such as LEDs and lasers underpin many areas of modern life such as communications, consumer electronics and sensing. However, cost-effective, practical sources are not available for many important parts of the spectrum. For example, mid-infrared sources are required for use in gas sensing systems in which the gas concentration is determined by measuring the amount of light absorbed. Many important gases, including atmospheric pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, have their strongest characteristic absorption in this part of the spectrum and new sensors are needed to help meet increasing legislative requirements. However, it is not only extremely challenging to realise devices at these wavelengths, but it is also complicated and costly to produce them. This has resulted in much component manufacture occurring outside the UK, which puts UK sensing and instrument manufacturers at a disadvantage compared to overseas competitors.
This proposal aims to revolutionise the manufacture of these components by developing novel devices that utilise the unique properties of graphene. This two dimensional sheet of carbon atoms is extremely strong, light and has is an extremely good electrical and thermal conductor. Part of this work will be aimed at trying to exploit these properties to develop a solid-state equivalent of a Free Electron Laser, which would create laser sources at wavelengths at which there are no alternatives, and the operation of which would challenge established notions of laser operation. Ultimately, the manufacture of graphene based components could be less expensive and more sustainable than conventional semiconductor devices.
In turn this will impact the manufacture of products containing these components such as gas sensors and analysers and therefore provide UK sensor and analyser manufacturers a route to new products by initiating a graphene based component industry.

Planned Impact

Semiconductor optoelectronics continues to revolutionise areas such as communications, sensing and consumer electronics. Increasingly there is a market pull to develop components at wavelengths not covered by existing technology. Two important examples of this are the need for efficient mid-infrared and Terahertz sources (particularly in the so-called "Terahertz Gap") for applications such as gas sensing, imaging and diagnosis of tissue in the medical and biological fields. However, it is extremely challenging to develop conventional semiconductor sources at these wavelengths.
In addition, the growth and processing of the compound semiconductors that are commonly used for optoelectronic devices requires a substantive and sustained capital investment. Consequently in the UK component manufacture is dominated by organisations such as Oclaro and RFMD, but with most taking place in the US and the Far East where there has been easier access to investment. However, these devices underpin an extensive supply chain. For example, the typical gas sensor supply chain consists of component manufacture, component packaging, sensing module manufacture, and sensing instrumentation manufacture. The latter might itself form part of a larger product such as a car or gas turbine. The relative scarcity of UK component manufacturers directly impacts this supply chain. For instance, SMEs such as Cascade Technologies, who produce laser and gas sensing systems based on quantum cascade lasers, source the semiconductor components from overseas. However, there are often issues associated with the reliability and sustainability of the component supply, and there may be export restrictions on the best performing new device technology. UK gas sensor manufacturers such as Crowcon Ltd, e2v Plc, City Technology, AlphaSense, Dynament, and Gas Sensing Solutions obtain infrared components from a wide range of sources. Therefore, their sustained competitive advantage is vulnerable to the development of new component technology overseas as this is often done in partnership with sensor and instrument manufacturers.
The demonstration of the graphene based devices described in this proposal has the potential to have significant impact in a number of ways: increase our understanding of the fundamental properties of graphene, drive a step change in the ability to create graphene based devices, and create cost-effective light sources at wavelengths at which there are no practical alternatives. This proposed work will provide UK high-value sensor and instrument manufacturers with a route to new products by initiating a UK based graphene component industry, build on and harness the lead that the UK has in graphene related research, and will contribute to EPSRC's strategic aim of helping to build a robust economy.
The award of an EPSRC Fellowship in Manufacturing would allow me to engage consistently and meaningfully with industry over an appropriate time-scale. This would not be possible in the same way given the length and nature of a standard research grant. Following my move from industry, I am in the process of creating a new research area, coupled to a vibrant and multi-disciplinary research group. The support of a Fellowship in Manufacturing would be vital in giving me the time and flexibility to pursue the high-risk, but potentially disruptive research described in the proposal, and in attracting the best researchers to my group. I believe that my background, skills and knowledge make me ideally suited to help achieve the aim of this scheme to have a transformative impact on UK manufacturing industries, and believe that I could act as an ambassador and advocate for this area of research. My previous track record, including world-class research across a number of areas, demonstrates that with appropriate support I have the potential to set the research agenda and become an international leader whose research has made a lasting impact on UK Manufacturing.
Description In this project we investigated how the unique properties of graphene can be exploited to develop cost effective and sustainable components that could replace semiconductor equivalents. Over the last few years we have demonstrated the feasibility of developing a graphene based thermal emitter that could be used in infrared gas sensors, and more recently have demonstrated a boron nitride encapsulated emitter that can run in air, significantly reducing the packaging requirements for these components. We have also now incorporated a metamaterial to tailor the emission properties of the emitter. Aspects of this work are being taken forward as part of our new EPSRC Prosperity Partnership award with QinetiQ. In parallel we have been working towards developing the equivalent of a laser. In recent work we have demonstrated a new metamaterial architecture that significantly increases the interaction between graphene and light. In new work, we are exploring how this architecture can be used to improve the sensitivity of infrared spectroscopy.
Exploitation Route Our work demonstrates the feasibility of creating useful components and this knowledge could be used by component manufacturers to create new products. In turn this could impact the manufacture of products containing these components such as gas sensors and analysers
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Electronics,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Initial discussions with a number of companies have been superseded by our new Prosperity Partnership award with QinetiQ
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Electronics,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description Exeter's EPSRC IAA Impact Development Award
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Exeter 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 02/2017
Description TEAM-A: Cash & In-kind Facility Investment
Amount £1,865,178 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R004781/1 
Organisation University of Exeter 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2022
Description ETH 
Organisation ETH Zurich
Department Department of Physics
Country Switzerland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have hosted researchers from ETH, plus also provided samples for testing at ETH,
Collaborator Contribution Measurements of samples fabricated in Exeter, hosting of researchers from Exeter.
Impact Journal papers: P. Q. Liu, I. J. Luxmoore, S. A. Mikhailov, N. A. Savostianova, F. Valmorra, J. Faist, and G. R. Nash "Highly tunable hybrid metamaterials employing split-ring resonators strongly coupled to graphene surface plasmons", Nature Communications 6, 8969 (2015). I. J. Luxmoore, C. H. Gan, P. Q. Liu, F. Valmorra, P. Li, J. Faist, and G. R. Nash "Strong coupling in the far-infrared between graphene plasmons and the surface optical phonons of silicon dioxide", ACS Photonics 1, 1151 (2014).
Start Year 2011