“We’ll be reaching products that work with graphene, in 2023.”
Assoc.Prof.Dr.Selmiye Alkan Gursel,Sabanci University
Following the introduction, “Graphene has many superior qualities. Especially its characteristic of high conductivity, a broad surface area and fast electron movement make this a promising material for energy implementations. In fact, the year graphene was invented is 2004. After six years in 2010, the two scientists who invented graphene (Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov) were deemed worthy of the Nobel Physics Prize. Following this date, not only the structural features of graphene were concentrated on, but also the subject of implementation.
Hvac&r Turkey: When we bring graphene and energy side by side, what is the final result?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: If you ask me where graphene is used in terms of energy, I can say this: They are considered promising both in, energy circuit devices (fuel cell, solar panels or photovoltaic appliances) and energy storage systems (batteries or super capacitors). Graphene is used in all these listed above, however most are still during research phase. The EU Project which I am also a part of (Graphene Flagship) has a general vision to produce daily equipment that will work with graphene as of 2023, found even in the supermarkets. We use graphene in batteries and fuel cells. Its high conductivity provides many advantages. Normally, we use carbon black as the main electrode material in fuel cells. In batteries, there’s a material called graphite or super carbon. Graphene is an electrode material as a substitute. In this sense, there are several predecessor studies in Europe and the world. We have a place in a major EU project. For this project, energy implementations of graphene is a substantial work package. Our objective is to produce energy sources that will work with graphene on automotive and mobile applications by 2023. We can say that reactions will occur much faster by means of graphene. If we only examine the fuel cell, graphene enables us to use less of platinum, an expensive component and catalyst of fuel cells and therefore we can significantly save on the costs. At the same time, as the experiments to this day reveal, it yields by far a better performance. Regarding these kinds of appliances, the capacity in batteries and performance in fuel cells are looked upon. Graphene works a lot better in terms of both capacity and performance compared with current systems. In this sense, I can say that there will be a huge gain on cost and general performance.
Hvac&r Turkey: The first phase of Graphene Flagship, an EU project in which Sabancı University takes place as a representative from Turkey is completed. How will the future of this project take shape?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: The first phase of Graphene Flagship is over. The first phase that lasted 30 months, started in 2013 and was finalized in March of 2016. There were more than 125 groups on the first phase of the project; in the course of time, the number rose to 150 with new arrivals. As I mentioned the first phase was completed successfully by the end of March, 2016. The successful ones proceed onto the second phase, which there’s no automatic tranisiton. You have to offer more developed systems. In this context, Sabancı University has been one of the partners participating in the project right from the start and the only entity from Turkey.
Hvac&r Turkey: How did the process evolve?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: The beginning was as such: I made studies on fuel cells between the years of 2003 and 2007 in Switzerland. I returned to Turkey in 2008 and started once again working on fuel cells at Sabancı University. In 2012, a huge EU project had been started constituting, drafts had been conceived. I received a mail consisting of a proposal from the project coordinator. In the mail, the preparation of a major project proposal was mentioned and I was asked if I could contribute to the fuel cell subject. I accepted and offered solutions on the fuel cell part. We developed these suggestions. In that period, not just graphene but also 6 other major EU projects were at hand. At the end of 2012, only two of these projects were selected as two of the major flagship projects. One is “graphene”, the other “human brain” project. Our project began in October of 2013 and was succesfully completed by the end of March, 2016. In June of 2016, the overall assessment of the first phase was made. I am the leader responsible from fuel cells. At that meeting, we justified our studies before the judges and EU Commission members. It was deemed successful. The second phase started in April, 2016 and is still in progress. However, this phase is very fast; it will be over in 2018. After the second phase, the third phase between 2018-2020 will follow up. The final phase will be completed between years of 2020-2023. 2023, is the completion date of the project. The target for 2023; is to bring products and equipment that work with graphene into daily lives of people.
Hvac&r Turkey: What will you be focusing on in the second phase?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: The subject matter doesn’t change, only the targets advance. The objective in fuel cells is as such: During the first phase, constructing fuel cells that work with a certain amount of platinum was the goal. During the second phase, deducting the amount of platinum and therefore reducing costs while enhancing performance, is the goal. The third phase will involve demonstration of a product. We made the electrodes and showed how they worked but we also need to use these in a real device. The objective of the third phase is that. In fact, we have already started working on the third phase. We are searching for what to suggest and how to. What matters here is: I am a scientist. I do significant studies on a laboratory scale but I also have to transform these studies into products, hand in hand with enterprises.
Hvac&r Turkey: Did you succeed in finding such companies?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: Unfortunately I haven’t yet met an eager company in Turkey. Because, the main priority of this project is not to make huge amounts of money. The priority here is to gain prestige by being involved in such a major development, with the company’s present experience and capacity. Companies don’t benefit from huge budgets, that’s why Turkish companies aren’t very open. I am still in touch with some of them, I will make them an offer. Additionally, there are 3-4 companies in Europe which already are a part of the Graphene Flagship, they have products regarding. Negotiations on a possible collaboration continue.
Hvac&r Turkey: At Sabancı University, how many people are included in your team? What’s the current situation?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: Under my team at Sabancı University; there are 2 post-doc researchers, 5 post-graduate students. We proceed as a total of 8. We work overtime, in order to do accomplish studies that can compete with Europe on behalf of Sabancı University. My point of view to date is to carry out academically good studies, to contribute to the literature and improve it even further. Especially concerning the Graphene project, we need to be able to turn our studies into a product. Currently, I’m tuned into that. It took us 2 years to prepare the current 25 cm2 electrode and single-cells. What we need to do from here on is to prepare multiple cells and integrate these into a working device or make them a part of fuel cells and batteries used on hybrid vehicles. My next target is to cooperate with one or more enterprises. Time will tell if we’ll succeed.
Hvac&r Turkey: We’d like to return to the subject of solar panels and photovoltaic. Could you please specify these?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: As a matter of fact, solar panels and photovoltaic are not my area of expertise. However, inside the Graphene Flagship there is a large group of 15-20 people working on it. I deduce from their results that graphene is useful in this regard. The main problem on solar panels is the efficiency issue. With the existing systems, it is said that 10% can’t be surpassed. On the other hand, using graphene proved to come up over that level. Certainly, expertise is sufficient for turning these into products and producing them on a larger scale. Graphene is very effective on fuel cells and batteries. Platinum is indispensable for fuel cells. We’re using platinum as a catalyst in order to speed up the reactions. When we use Graphene, the reactions are faster. Therefore, it seems as if we can work with a minimum amount of platinum, which is cost-effective. We already proved that graphene and its derivatives have much higher performance.
Hvac&r Turkey: When aluminum was discovered, it was a very expensive material. As a result of research studies the point arrived at, is a price level where almost anyone can reach. Will graphene have a similar story?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: Initially graphene was very expensive. There are two ways to produce graphene; chemical and mechanical. At the moment, there are existing companies that produce graphene. As we take a look at Europe we see tons of them, hence in the USA. They can produce graphene on a daily capacity, which used to be a dream. For example, we produce graphene in our laboratories but our weekly output is no more than 5 grams. But the companies may reach a daily amount of 1 ton, which in return reduces costs. As technology advances, costs drop down and graphene will be inexpensive. In fact, the matter of expense is out of the question nowadays. The main issue is: “How will we use graphene?” Graphene is certainly not an easy material to use. For example, carbon black is a very common material, so are graphite and coal. To transform graphite into graphene form and process it, is quite difficult. At the moment, we’re trying to improve these technologies. The main resource of graphene is, graphite. You take coal and process it with strong acids. You may also produce it in a laboratory and would take a week to do so. Graphene is a very effective material. Sometimes we use it on a microgram level. Kilos of graphene is never used for any implementation. When the time comes where you will produce a mass of fuel cells for cars (multi cells), you may use 1 kg. of graphene. But the need for that is not now.
The main vision of the project for 2023 is to use it definitely in 3 main areas: Information and communication technologies, energy storage and circuit, health practices. Fuel cells and photovoltaic fall into the category of energy circuit; batteries stand out in storage uses. Graphene-based composites will be used.
Hvac&r Turkey: Which of the familiar companies are involved in this project?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: For instance, Airbus. The sub-project of Airbus in using graphene on aircrafts continues as a part of the project. There are several others like this: Nokia is one. But Nokia plays a part for the comparison of batteries, not on phones or communication devices. The name of Nokia will appear on all electronic devices. It’s entering an interesting area. Apart from these, there’s Philips. On a country basis, there are; Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland (Nokia), Greece, Ireland, Poland and Portugal. France is very effective. There’s Alcatel form Germany. Italy is very effective in this one as in many other EU porjects. Spain is effective too, there’s Airbus. Sweden is the project coordiantor. Switzerland is also involved. Philips participates from the Netherlands. From Turkey, we are the only ones on behalf of Sabanci University. UK has a special place in the project because this is where graphene was discovered. At the same time, two Nobel-prize winner scientists are part of the advisory committee.
Hvac&r Turkey: What’s the perspective of companies in Turkey?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: The main duty of these companies is not to fund resources but to yield outcome. They currently have a specific area of competence. Their responsibilites go as far as multiplication of prototypes in the industry; not to provide funds for the Graphene Flagship. On the contrary, they benefit from the project. I personally spoke to some of the companies in Turkey. I offered collaboration, unfortunately I couldn’t find anybody.
When you mention an EU project, people tend to think there’s a huge amount of funds involved that could be taken advantage of. It is the same for researchers. There is not so much financial support. Because there are many partners involved, the shares are not so high. However, it’s very prestigious. You become part of a huge network, get together with world leaders.
Hvac&r Turkey: Will promotional activites, for adaptation of people, take place following 2020?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: As a matter of fact, they already started but it is not very welcome to cause quite a stir at the moment. Maybe there will be an outburst in 2020 in that sense. Because the product will actually come out in 2020. As I attend the Graphene Flagship meetings, there are several prototypes saying “we did this and that with graphene”. But it will take 2-3 years for these to mature. For instance, it takes years to adapt a new technology in fuel cells and batteries, especially proving their security. You may produce a very good product at the laboratory, with a high performance and is cost-effective, later the company commercializes it but the level of security remains uncertain. An example is the recent Samsung Galaxy Note 7 incident. Even as you get on an airplane, they started warning “not to turn on, not to use”. After that incident, people started to take precaution. The level of security on the developed technology is crucial. Therefore, people don’t want to cause a stir right away, no matter how good the technology they developed may be. As I said, we may hear the words: “We made and developed these” after 2020, meet more products. But, as I mentioned earlier we have a couple of more years ahead.
Hvac&r Turkey: As for our final question, what kind of a world is awaiting us after 2023?
Selmiye Alkan Gursel: Following 2023, I expect use of graphene in a variety of areas. Not only in batteries or fuel cells, but we will see it being used also in daily applications and devices.