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Igniting a vibrant ecosystem of innovation in 2D materials

The Research & Innovation Center for Graphene and 2D Materials (RIC2D) at Khalifa University solves the local challenges of developing and deploying innovative materials, while fostering worldwide collaborative academic and industrial partnerships.

For the past two decades, graphene has captivated scientists with its exceptional properties, including high thermal and electrical conductivity, large surface area, remarkable strength, and flexibility. Understanding graphene has underpinned the discovery of an extensive family of 2D materials, finding application across numerous sectors.

Launched in April 2022, the Research & Innovation Center for Graphene and 2D Materials (RIC2D) is a major innovation hub at Khalifa University, focused on the development and commercialization of technologies that benefit the United Arab Emirates and beyond.

Committed to local impact

RIC2D’s research focuses on applications relevant to the UAE including water purification, production of lightweight composites and material innovations in aerospace, energy and healthcare. For example, integrating graphene into the water-membrane technologies used in water treatment can reduce the energy consumption and cost of the desalination process. This is a significant step that would help the UAE, which grapples with increasing water scarcity.

Similar benefits could help the construction sector, which is booming in the Gulf region. Cement production generates substantial emissions of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Introducing graphene into the concrete mix, however, could reduce the quantity of cement required, leading to a lower carbon footprint. Graphene and other 2D materials can also be blended with copper to enhance the electrical conductivity of wires and incorporated into other components to reduce their weight.

Senior Director at RIC2D Professor Hassan Arafat is keen to emphasize the importance of conducting this work locally. “We needed to establish this research center here in Abu Dhabi, rather than just relying on scientific results from abroad,” he explains. “Take the construction industry: the climatic conditions and needs in Europe are very different from those in the UAE, so it is important to perform this research considering the local context.

“In addition, we will identify promising startups across all universities in the UAE and provide them with space, funding and equipment.”

Supporting international collaboration

In addition to its local work, RIC2D is committed to fostering collaborations to strengthen links with international partners. Student and staff exchanges, joint research projects and commercialization efforts are already underway between RIC2D and the University of Manchester’s Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) in the UK. Looking ahead, RIC2D aims to expand its network across Europe, Asia and the United States.

A catalyst for these collaborations is the RIC2D Research and Innovation Fund, which has received collaborative research proposals from universities and companies around the world working in tandem with Khalifa University professors. “As soon as the results of this fund are announced, RIC2D will enter a new and exciting phase,” says Arafat. 

To nurture international collaborations, RIC2D hosted the first UAE-EU symposium on 2D materials: technologies and industrial potential in May 2023. The event was organized jointly by RIC2D and the Graphene Flagship, an established European consortium of hundreds of academic and industrial research groups, working on fundamental and applied research into 2D materials. The symposium was chaired by RIC2D’s Arafat and the Graphene Flagship Head of Innovation Kari Hjelt.

The two-day event gave more than 140 attendees, from academia and industry in Europe and the UAE, the opportunity to share scientific results and explore topics of common interest. Nine industrial delegates from the Graphene Flagship presented projects to members of the UAE’s government and private sectors at Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem dedicated to fostering the growth of tech founders and startups. The event was also attended by the Mubadala Investment Company, a major sovereign wealth fund in the UAE.

The bond between the Graphene Flagship and RIC2D was strengthened at a second joint event during September’s Graphene Week 2023 in Gothenburg, Sweden; the flagships’ annual event. Attendees were encouraged to delve deeper into discussions on environmental and societal challenges that can be tackled with 2D materials.

“I believe that technologies based on 2D materials are poised to make a real impact on our lives. In 2023, every single country in the world has seen the impact of climatic disasters in various manifestations. Knowing that graphene has the potential to reduce the consumption of materials and energy brings a satisfying feeling that we are contributing to a very big cause,” enthuses Arafat.  

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