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Is the EU’s big bet on graphene about to pay off?

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Graphene’s spec sheet reads like a superhero’s profile. Two hundred times stronger than steel, a million times thinner than a human hair and a thousand times more conductive than copper, it’s no surprise that the substance has been called a ‘miracle material’.

When the sheet was carbon first isolated in 2004 at the University of Manchester, the breakthrough shocked the scientific world. Numerous uses for the “miracle substance” were envisioned, from storing solar energy to bonding batteries into bodies. Plans were drawn up at the EU to capitalize on the material’s promise.

In 2013, the block launched the Graphene Flagship, an initiative to commercialize the material. Backed by a €1 billion budget and nearly 170 academic and industrial partners in 22 countries, the project raised hopes that Europe would become a graphene powerhouse. However, the early “graphene gold rush” did not immediately lead to wealth. But slowly a promising sector is emerging on the continent.

Graphene is a one atom thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice.