05/12/2014 | Gary Hartley | Products and technology, Green strategy and politics | government funding, graphene, green innovation, Innovate UK, innovation, low-carbon technologies, R&D, valley of death
Enabling the use of new technologies in everyday life can be a laborious process - so much so that the gap between research and the marketplace has been dubbed the ‘valley of death’. But new Government funding aims to change all that. Through Innovate UK, £50 million has been announced to bridge this daunting valley.
The intention is to end the frustrations of scientists trying to push good technologies out of the lab, while assisting forward-thinking industry in offering the infrastructure and expertise to make the theoretical practical. Interestingly, an added £17million has been earmarked for creating new industrial PHD places - putting the power with expert individuals to bridge the gap between academia and business.
But what does this mean for green innovation? Well, potentially quite a lot. Among the technologies listed as key areas of R&D that the new cash will go towards are energy efficient computing, energy harvesting and graphene (pure carbon). A concerted effort in graphene research alone could bring significant results. The form of carbon graphite, only recently discovered, has been hailed as little short of a green ‘super substance’. It is the thinnest known substance, and the best conductor of electricity. Its main chemical quality is that it allows positively-charged Hydrogen atoms through but no other gases. Professor Sir Andrei Geim of Manchester University explains why that could mean so much:
"In the atmosphere there is a certain amount of hydrogen and this hydrogen will end up on the other side [of graphene] in a reservoir. Then you can use this hydrogen-collected reservoir to burn it in the same fuel cell and make electricity.”
Various potential applications of graphene have been cited, from hyper-efficient fuel cells to wearable electricity-generating technology. Pressing climate targets and the need for increased energy security in an ever-changing geopolitical environment means the of hastening low carbon technologies into public life is required. And financial support to help this happen can never be a bad thing - although due caution must be maintained to ensure that only the most beneficial innovations make it into our homes and businesses.