The spectacular rise in the number of graphene-associated international patent filings* over the last decade highlights the world’s ever-increasing interest in this ‘wonder material’. It is only a matter of time before graphene-related technologies are brought to market, potentially disrupting many industry sectors.

Since it was first isolated in 2004 at the University of Manchester, a global fascination with graphene – the world’s thinnest material – has taken hold thanks to its remarkable multi-functional physical and electrical properties. These properties make graphene potentially suitable for an ever-expanding range of applications.

Researchers, scientists and businesses across the world are now looking at graphene and how to both cost-effectively mass produce it and utilise it in almost every sector imaginable, including automotive, telecommunications, electronics, energy storage and biotechnology.

Of the total 10,538 international patent applications filed since 2004 which relate to graphene*, China, the USA and South Korea are leading the field, with applicants from these countries accounting for 4,358 (41%), 2,341 (22%) and 1,603 (15%) of the total number respectively. Perhaps unsurprisingly, electronics companies, universities and technology-related businesses dominate the list of applicants.

However, while it is overseas organisations and companies filing the most patent applications, the UK, and Manchester in particular, is still a renowned world leader in graphene research. Today, the University of Manchester is not only home to the National Graphene Institute (NGI) but is in the process of developing Graphene City® which will house not only NGI but also the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre.

Applications in the automotive sector

Graphene has an exciting role to play in the future of the automotive sector. In Formula 1, for example, the strength-to-weight ratio has a huge impact on a car’s performance and graphene could be used to ensure component parts are both stronger and lighter. Plus, the heat conducting properties could be used to draw heat away from hot spots to areas where it can be put to good use.

Potentially, graphene can also be used to improve batteries for electric cars, which could help pave the way for developing electric cars that are truly competitive with petrol and diesel counterparts.

With vehicles containing ever-more electronics, the increasing use of composite materials to reduce the weight of vehicles to improve fuel efficiency, as well as the potential use of graphene in storing fuel, one thing seems certain: the use of graphene will be instrumental in the development of the car of the future.

The desire to protect innovation in the field of graphene therefore seems likely to be here to stay, and further global patent filings reflecting this interesting and commercially useful technology can be expected.

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