Australia will become the first country in the world to use graphene in the large-scale manufacture of an industrial product, according to Chris Gilbey, the CEO of Sydney-based company Imagine Intelligent Materials (Imagine IM).

Gilbey announced on 11 April that Imagine IM, the leading Australian developer of graphene applications for industry, has entered into a licensing agreement with Australia’s largest geotextiles manufacturer Geofabrics Australasia. The ground-breaking agreement will see Geofabrics become the exclusive Australian licensee of Imagine IM’s graphene coating technology for applications in geotextiles.

Geofabrics will use the technology to offer Australian civil engineering companies significantly improved capacity to locate and remedy leaks with applications in landfill and mining construction. Gilbey said that the insights gained from working with Geofabrics, which is headquartered in Melbourne, were key to the development of the graphene manufacturing solution.

“Increased environmental regulations in Australia and around the world are driven by the need to address water safety and conservation and by the need for cost effective leak detection in the mining industry,” Gilbey said. “We estimate our technology will save customers around 20-40% on their current solution costs. Our graphene coating technology has the potential to become a key element of the world’s geotextiles industry, which is growing at around 10% per annum and will be worth around $20bn by 2018.

“We have utilised graphene’s electrical conductivity to provide the means to detect pin hole sized leaks in geotextiles. Leak detection is important because, undetected leaks mean that there is potential for toxins to escape from tailings dams and landfills into ground water.

Geofabrics is scheduled to provide the marketplace with the first of its graphene-coated geotextile products in August. The products will be manufactured at Geofabrics’ facility in Albury, NSW.

“We are the leading geotextiles manufacturer in Australia and we entered into the agreement with Imagine IM because of our belief in graphene and our belief in Imagine IM’s ability to quality assure the product and the supply chain,” said Brendan Swifte, General Manager at Geofabrics. “We believe that our bidim geotextile with graphene coating is a ‘game changer’ for the geotextile industry. It will be a high tech solution at an extremely competitive price.”

According to Gilbey, Imagine IM’s licensing agreement with Geofabrics follows his company’s announcement last month that it has commenced development of Australia’s first graphene manufacturing plant in North Geelong. The plant will commence production later this year and will supply its graphene solutions to Geofabrics.

Out of the laboratory

Widely regarding as the new ‘super material’, graphene consists of a layer of carbon a single atom thick, extracted from graphite. Graphene has many extraordinary properties. It is about 100 times stronger than the strongest steel, conducts heat and electricity efficiently, is nearly transparent, impervious to water and gases, and can stretch like rubber. Its discoverers, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester in the UK, were awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 2010.

Imagine IM was founded in 2014 to create disruptive solutions utilising graphene that can be integrated into existing manufacturing processes.

“The scientific and engineering team at Imagine IM is proud that we have taken graphene out of the research laboratory and transformed its potential into a genuine commercial application and in so doing boosted Australia’s ‘clever country’ credentials,” said Gilbey.

Imagine IM is in the process of developing additional products and solutions for the global geotextiles industry and is planning to migrate its platform technologies into other textile product lines where solving problems associated with water are highly valued. Gilbey said that Imagine IM is currently discussing international licensing agreements for its graphene technologies in the USA.

“The race to commercialise graphene has seen the launch of numerous companies in the USA, Europe and Asia,” said Gilbey. “The European Commission has established the €1bn Graphene Flagship Fund to help drive the commercialisation of graphene in Europe. In the UK, British Government support has helped establish the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester.

“However, up till now, no company has been able to develop a product that delivers at industrial scale the potential that has been indicated in research labs.”