Engineering innovation in graphene nanocomposites for consumer product and packaging applications

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Chemistry

Abstract

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. This project will tackle these issues head-on to develop a high-volume, low-cost graphene engineering technology that will enable commercialisation of the unique structural properties of graphene nanocomposites in consumer products.

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 in potential new consumer products.

Planned Impact

The market for graphene is still developing and therefore difficult to quantify, however early business reports estimate that graphene technologies will be worth $675 million by 2020. While capacitors could account for more than half of this market, structural materials as required for future consumer products and packaging are expected to reach $91 million in 2020. Currently consumer goods production, distribution and sales make a significant contribution to the UK economy: The consumer goods sector employs ca. 14% of the total UK work force and accounted for 19% of the UK's GDP in 2000 (including food, drink and pharmaceuticals). Packaging is required to contain, protect and preserve these and other industrial products in conjunction with modern distribution systems and has become an essential everyday item, with its usage growing broadly in line with the global economy. The packaging manufacturing industry in the UK employs some 85,000 people (representing 3% of the UK manufacturing industry workforce) and has sales in excess of £10 billion .

The key drivers for consumer goods and packaging innovation come from: (i) Change of lifestyle e.g. consumption on the go or smaller households require greater robustness, smaller product sizes and better content protection. (ii) Increasing raw material costs (petroleum based, aluminium, etc) cannot be passed on to end consumers. (iii) Environmental concerns increase the need to reduce waste.

Graphene nano-composites could play a major role in addressing these challenges and thus contribute to maintaining a strong consumer products and packaging industry in the UK.

While P&G and Dyson have already identified several sectors such as domestic appliances, oral and shave care products where graphene composites may enable new products, the near term opportunity lies in packaging, currently at a cost of approximately 5% ($4bn) of P&G's annual turnover. The huge potential for impact is evident from for instance downgauging P packaging by 10% alone could save P&G around £80 million per year. Additional benefits could also be seen in the food industry where increased barrier function could lead to a reduction in food waste. High volume processing of nanocomposites will also be relevant to sectors like the automotive industry and contribute to maintaining the existing manufacturing base in the UK.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Graphene in composite materials has attracted both academic and industrial interest because it offers exciting step changes in both structural and functional material performance at very low filler content. However, true commercial applications have yet to be realized or implemented due to lack of understanding in how the material and dispersions behave under melt conditions. The aim of this project is to tackle these issues head-on to develop a high-volume, low-cost graphene engineering technology that will enable commercialization of the unique structural properties of graphene nanocomposites in consumer products.

We have been able to observe the conformations of polymer chains in polymer-graphene oxide nanocomposites and show that the chains have a reduced radius of gyration that is consistent with confinement at a solid interface in the melt. This results in a reduction in interchain entanglements at the polymer graphene interface. Our results are a significant step forward in understanding how two-dimensional nanoparticles affect global materials properties at low loadings.

We have also been able to show that, using scattering techniques and atomic force microscopy, that the morphology of graphene in composites is substantially influenced by the surrounding polymer matrix with extensive extrinsic wrinkling and folding observed. Relevant to industrial processing of graphene nanocomposites for real applications, we have demonstrated that during melt processing graphene networks are formed and these can be controlled opening the door to tailoring the properties of composites materials (such as mechanical, electrical, thermal and barrier properties) to match the application need.
Exploitation Route This project details the behaviour of graphene in a polymer matrix under melt processing conditions. It will help and further the understanding of graphene composite processing under industrially relevant conditions and is therefore likely to impact many application areas. Although the focus has been graphene some of the results will be relevant to other types of filler materials as the work describes the behaviour of composite materials at the molecular level.
Sectors Chemicals,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description Graphene Innovation Leadership Board - TSB / Innovate UK
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact The board is responsible for guiding the direction of work / research in graphene that underpins UK industry for TSB / Innovate UK
 
Description Innovation RandD Working Group - National Measurement Office
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Member of BSI EPL/501 Committee
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guidance committee
Impact The committee has responsibility for discussing and setting standards
 
Description PROGRAMME EXPERT GROUP FOR THE NATIONAL MEASUREMENT SYSTEM INNOVATION RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT METROLOGY PROGRAMME
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description Applied Graphene Materials - Grapol 
Organisation Applied Graphene Materials
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Graphene dispersion in host matrices
Collaborator Contribution Graphene processing conditions and access to processing equipment
Impact Collaboration ongoing. No outputs ready to report
Start Year 2013
 
Description Dyson - Grapol 
Organisation Dyson
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Graphene dispersion in host polymer matrices
Collaborator Contribution Project management and industrially relevant processing conditions
Impact Collaboration ongoing. No outcomes to report yet
Start Year 2013
 
Description Procter and Gamble - Grapol 
Organisation Procter & Gamble
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Dispersion of grapheme in host polymer matrices
Collaborator Contribution Project management, Industrially relevant processing conditions
Impact Still on going so no outputs to communicate as yet.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Cafe Scientific - Stockton 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact General introduction talk on graphene and applications, particularly around composites. After the talk there was a lengthy discussion on graphene composites and applications and influence on current practices and materials.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Public Talk (Grey College SCR) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact General talk on graphene and applications, particularly around composites. After the talk there was a lengthy discussion on graphene composites and applications and influence on current practices and materials.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description School visit (Durham) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Around 40 pupils attend the talk form various age groups. the talk was to introduce graphene and applications. Afterwards there was a discussion on applications and future applications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015