PARAGRAF: Graphene set for mass market production with electronic tech firm’s new formats
The venture capital and angel investment marks a turning point for the 2015 Cambridge University spin-out that has invented new ways of producing graphene, two dimensional and an atom thick, so it is compatible with mass market electronics manufacturing. Although there have never been any doubts about the British invention’s sensational properties – strength, flexibility and high electrical conductivity – getting it out of the lab and into real world solutions has been much harder. Despite graphene’s life-changing potential to replace silicon in computer chips, make processors up to 1000 times faster and halve energy consumption, hurdles such as contamination, poor uniformity, limited size and reproducibility have curbed manufacture.
But these are the problems Paragraf’s innovations have solved, co-founder and chief executive Dr Simon Thomas explains: “We use graphene we have created in-house. We aren’t a seller but a developer that realises new technologies that we take on to volume production with partners.
“Our approach delivers large area, high quality layers and materials. It allows the ready combination of different substances and layers without the need for transfer processes.
“The materials are suitable for direct application in devices at scale, something graphene had been unable to do before.”
Paragraf’s “deep, hard tech” and need for capital investment into equipment made it a difficult investment prospect initially.
But in 2017 £3 million seed funding, including Government enterprise backing, helped it deliver prototypes, get into its own production unit and start serious hiring. Today it has a team of 25 scientists.
Dr Simon Thomas, Paragraf chief executive and co-founder (Image: NC)
Paragraf’s first products, graphene based sensors (Image: NC)
“Cambridge gives us access to great talent and I’m extremely proud of our young team,” says Dr Thomas. “Our staff come first, we have a drive for common goals and this has paid dividends by allowing us to move fast and achieve great things quickly.”
The latest funding was led by university spin-out investor Parkwalk Advisors and includes Cambridge Enterprise, Amadeus Capital and IQ Capital Partners.
Currently the company is pre-revenue. “But this investment takes us into a new growth phase and future earnings in the billions,” adds Dr Thomas, a materials scientist whose journey from his brainwave about how a new approach was needed to proving his proposal took just a few weeks.
The first product for commercialisation will be a super sensitive magnetic sensor with greater temperature, field and power ranges than those offered by other devices.
Superior performance and lower costs are among the many life-changing benefits it is designed to deliver for the likes of body scanners and satellites.
A collaboration with clean tech expert and junior stock market listed Verditek [AIM:VDTK] is also on course to produce lighter weight, more efficient solar panels, making renewable energy more available for a broader spread of properties.
And so far unachievable gains such as instantly chargeable batteries also beckon as the wonder stuff finally steps out into the world.
“The global market for graphene is expanding rapidly,” says Dr Thomas. “We are inundated with approaches now.”