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By Sarah Baines on

As green as a black thing can be: Eco-friendly arrivals at Wonder Materials

A new display of graphene applications in the Wonder Materials: Graphene and Beyond exhibition explores the ways graphene could help us address some serious global challenges.

Please note: Wonder Materials ended on 25 June 2017. To find out what exhibitions and activities are open today, visit our What’s On section.

Picture of new display case in the Wonder Materials gallery at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Science Museum Group © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum


This week, we added a new display showcasing some graphene products and demonstrators. In the process of researching items to include in the display, one thing became very clear – graphene could make our technology more environmentally friendly across the board. I chose eight objects to include, each of which has a great story and represents an area where graphene enhances something in a way that will have a positive impact on our lives.

Picture of two graphene infused industrial fasteners, found in the Wonder Materials gallery at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. Donated by the University of Manchester.
Industrial fasteners, 2016. Added to plastics, graphene can make things stronger, more durable and conductive. It has made these industrial fasteners stronger, smaller and lighter. They lock together to form a very strong connection. They can replace nuts and bolts, making products lighter and easier to recycle. Manufactured by: Rotite Technologies Ltd and Graphene Enabled Systems Ltd. Donated by: The University of Manchester.
Science Museum Group © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Many of the items in the display don’t look particularly different – you wouldn’t necessarily tell they contained graphene to look at them. That is, apart from the fact that graphene-enhanced products tend to be black or grey, either directly because of the graphene added, or because they have been made carbon black for marketing reasons to emphasise the fact that they contain graphene.

As I searched for content, I asked companies to tell me more about their graphene-enhanced products and the environmental impact they could have. Philip Aitchison from Imagine Intelligent Materials Pty Ltd told me that his company’s geotextile with imgne X3® graphene-based coating was “as green as a black thing can be.” This fantastic line proved to be a common theme among the companies I spoke to, and came to sum up the importance of the whole display to me.

Picture of geotextile with imgne X3® graphene-based coating.
Geotextile with imgne X3® graphene-based coating, 2016. This is smart fabric for sensing and reporting real-time changes in stress, temperature and moisture. It will prevent waste from mines or landfill sites leaking out into the environment, and detect unseen holes in drinking water reservoirs. Donated by: Imagine Intelligent Materials Pty Ltd.
Science Museum Group © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Press articles about graphene tend to focus on glamorous far-future products such as electronic paper and space elevators. But I think that the best technology is invisible. It’s behind the scenes making things work better, and we don’t even know it’s there. Graphene is an invisible powerhouse of a material that could simply make our stuff work better for us. For example, adding graphene makes composites stronger and lighter, and of course a lighter car or aeroplane would need much less fuel.

We can also use it to filter water, as the addition of graphene oxide to water filters means they can turn dirty or salty water into drinking water faster and cheaper. Graphene-enabled products will help us to do more with less, and in a world where resources are limited and we have urgent global challenges to address, what could be more important?

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