Two new technology businesses share this year’s £70,000 prize for novel applications of graphene and other 2D materials.
The two teams, based at The University of Manchester, are addressing key societal challenges on future energy and food security. They are seeking breakthroughs by using 2D materials to produce hydrogen to generate energy, and by designing polymer hydrogels to increase food production.
The Eli and Britt Harari Enterprise Award, in association with Nobel Laureate Sir Andre Geim, is awarded each year to help the implementation of commercially-viable business proposals from students, post-doctoral researchers and recent graduates of The University of Manchester based on developing the commercial prospects of graphene and other 2D materials.
The first prize of £50,000 was awarded to NanoPlexus and its founding team Jae Jong Byun, Dr. Suelen Barg, Francis Moissinac, Wenji Yang and Thomas Moissinac. Jae and Wenji are undertaking their PhD studies in Dr. Suelen Barg’s research group (Nano3D), with Francis starting in September. Thomas is an aerospace engineering graduate from The University of Manchester. The team has worked under the Nano3D lab in formulating their idea into a marketable product.
NanoPlexus will be developing a range of products using their platform technology; the unique nano-material aerogel technology will offer cost-effective renewable hydrogen production with increased material efficiency for a sustainable green economy.
Jae commented: “Recently, there has been an increased footprint and sense of urgency to transition into renewable energy to tackle climate change. Our concept is ideally positioned to support this transition by acting as a stepping-stone for innovative technology growth into conventional energy systems. Our idea of 2D material-based cells supports the forecasted need of renewable energy implementation, as it uses low to zero-carbon energy resources.”
Francis added: “We are very grateful to Eli and Britt Harari for their generosity and for the support of the University, which will enable us to develop our novel concept that could one day make a meaningful difference; connecting innovation to convention.”
The runner-up, receiving £20,000, was AEH Innovative Hydrogel Ltd, founded by Beenish Siddique. Beenish has recently graduated with a PhD from the School of Materials. Her technology aims to provide an eco-friendly hydrogel to farmers that, not only increases crop production but also has potential to grow crops in infertile and water-stressed lands, with minimum use of water and fertilisers.
Beenish said: “Many farmers, especially in third world countries with warmer climates, are interested in my product. I have a solution that offers higher crop yield with less water and fertiliser usage, hence, less greenhouse gases emission and a much cleaner environment.”
The quality of the business proposals presented in this year’s finals was exceptionally high. Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester and one of the judges for this year’s competition said: “Our commitment to the support of entrepreneurship across the University has never been stronger and is a vital part of our approach to the commercialisation of research. The support provided by Eli Harari over the last five years has enabled new and exciting ventures to be developed. It provides our winners the early-stage funding that is so vital to creating a significant business, while also contributing to health and social benefit. With support from our world-leading graphene research facilities, I am certain that they are on the path to success.”
The winners will also receive support from groups across the University, including the University’s new state-of-the-art R&D facility, the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC); its leading support infrastructure for entrepreneurs, the Masood Enterprise Centre; as well as wider networks to help the winners take the first steps towards commercialising these early-stage ideas.
The award is co-funded by the North American Foundation for The University of Manchester through the support of one of the University’s former physics students, Dr Eli Harari, founder of global flash-memory giant, SanDisk, and his wife, Britt. It recognises the role that high-level, flexible, early-stage financial support can play in the successful development of a business targeting the full commercialisation of a product or technology related to research in graphene and 2D materials.