Monday 22 January 2018

Tech executives launch Dublin graphene firm

Ex-Intel and tidal energy chiefs to manufacture 'wonder material', writes John Reynolds

Philip Moynagh has launched an ambitious bid to produce in-demand graphene. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Philip Moynagh has launched an ambitious bid to produce in-demand graphene. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan

John Reynolds

A co-founder of Dublin tidal energy firm OpenHydro and a former factory manager of computer chip giant Intel are aiming to manufacture high volumes of the so-called 'wonder material' graphene here, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Chartered accountant and Trinity College graduate Donal O'Flynn, has teamed up with co-founders Philip Moynagh, a former Intel factory manager and Internet of Things VP and US-based engineer and entrepreneur Bill Shelley to form a new Dublin-headquartered venture, GrapheneXL.

Graphene has many unique properties including being a good conductor of heat and electricity, while also being almost transparent. Dr Terry McGrail, director of the Irish Centre for Composites Research and Dr John Boland, VP of Research and Professor of Chemistry at Trinity College, who is also director of the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices, are on the advisory board of the company.

Another Trinity graduate, Jim Kelly, who was involved in establishing innovation centres for Citibank, Intel and Accenture, is in the role of head of innovation and design, while Declan Fay, who has worked at Intel and IBM here, will be in charge of developing the new firm's supply chain.

On its website, GrapheneXL states: "Graphene will enable energy efficient lightweight transport, clean desalinated water, clean air, fast charging longer-lasting batteries and lighter, more electrically conductive wires than copper. Other uses include making materials stronger and fire resistant.

"What the world needs is an abundant supply of high-quality, low-cost graphene to make all this a reality. At GrapheneXL we are committed to this goal." It is believed the firm aims to produce it here in Ireland, building on our advantages in high-tech manufacturing.

A number of firms such as China's Westart already make small graphene batteries, while US electric carmaker Fisker aims to make batteries with it to give its cars the longest range of any electric vehicle.

Meanwhile, Airbus, Siemens and Rolls-Royce announced a research partnership this week that aims to rival Boeing and GE to develop hybrid-powered planes that would need graphene batteries.

Scientists at Trinity College have made a number of breakthroughs with graphene since 2014, when initially a new method of producing industrial scale quantities of it were discovered by a team led by Prof Jonathan Coleman. They also demonstrated putting graphite in a typical kitchen blender and adding washing up liquid could produce the material, although it lacked the qualities needed for electronics.

However, there is a global race to produce high volumes of it, which requires graphite, which is abundant and relatively cheap. The market for products made using graphene, which is about as valuable as pure gold, will be worth many billions, industry analysts say.

In Australia last week, ASX-listed firm First Graphite opened a factory near Perth aiming to produce 90 tonnes a year. It is thought that a larger-scale factory would cost tens of millions to get up and running.

As founders of OpenHydro, low-key entrepreneur O'Flynn and fellow Dublin accountant Brendan Gilmore saw the tidal energy firm grow to become a leader in tidal turbine technology, even recruiting a chief executive who had worked in Formula One motorsport.

In 2013, French semi-state naval defence and marine energy company DCNS acquired a controlling interest in the business. It's understood that Gilmore and O'Flynn retain stakes in the company.

Neither O'Flynn nor Moynagh from GrapheneXL returned calls or emails.

Sunday Indo Business

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