Huawei joins University of Manchester on graphene research

A partnership has recently been announced by China's Huawei Technologies Co and the United Kingdom's University of Manchester on research into graphene, a material set to replace silicon in chips and electronics, according to Shanghai's China Business News.

Huawei and the university will start the partnership with a two-year project to explore ways of using graphene in consumer electronics and mobile devices, the company said in an Oct. 23 statement.

Graphene, a one-atom-thick form of graphite, is the world's thinnest and most conductive material and is described by Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei as revolutionary since it is tapped to replace silicon in the next 10 to 20 years, the paper said.

According to Ren, the width of current chips is limited by a minimum of 7 nanometers in existing silicon technology, but the use of graphene will enable the production of even smaller chips.

In 2011, IBM's Thomas J Watson Research Center published in the journal Science its creation of a graphene integrated circuit that was named as one of the 10 science stories of that year, the paper noted.

Graphene chips are expected to improve wireless transmission in mobile phones and radio equipment, and may be able to allow the use of handsets in places that have poor signals, the report added. The material is also seen as a possible solution to the short power life and long charging time of lithium batteries used in electric cars and smart devices.

The University of Manchester opened its National Graphene Institute earlier this year with funding from the British government and the European Union, and it has become a leading institute in research and commercialization of the material, the paper said.

The institute currently has 235 researchers working with over 40 companies on research into the material. Two researchers at the university that created graphene, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, were awarded the Nobel physics prize in 2010 for their achievements. But it is still early days in terms of research into the material that began in 2004, and no commercial production of graphene has been achieved, experts said.

According to Ren, any breakthrough in graphene technology is unlikely to be made by a small company, and will require big companies leading in silicon technology.