Defence leads funding for promising research collaboration to develop environmentally-friendly Canadian graphene

Jessica Brown
July 2, 2020

ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd  — an emerging mineral development company based in Thunder Bay, Ontario — is starting a new research collaboration with Dr. Mohammad Arjmand (PhD) and his team at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus. Funded by the Department of National Defence’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) award, the project seeks to develop electrically conductive, molded and 3D printed graphene/polymer nanocomposites.

In addition to the $200,000 grant from Defence, Arjmand has received a $320,000 grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF), as well as $101,224 from the NSERC Research Tools and Instruments (RTI) Grant Program (with support from the UBC School of Engineering). ZEN Graphene will be contributing its unique graphite material, Albany PureTM, to the project.

Through a proprietary method of synthesizing graphene, ZEN Graphene and Arjmand are working to develop a polymer nanocomposite that provides protection from electromagnetic waves (EMWs). Defence would use the nanocomposite in satellites, though the research team emphasizes that the technology is not limited to one field. Currently, industry relies on metal to make the electromagnetic shields needed to protect electronic equipment from EMWs, not only in satellites but in airplanes, medical equipment, phones, and computers, among others. This new polymer nanocomposite aims to be lighter, cheaper to produce, and more resistant to corrosion than metals, and when used to create electromagnetic shields, provides the same level of protection from EMWs as metal. “This funding is for satellites and the Department of Defence,” Arjmand says. “But there are broad applications across industry.”

While graphite is broadly available and commonly used, Arjmand and ZEN Graphene hope to make the current process of polymer synthesis more environmentally friendly, by harnessing the “uniquely small flakes” of ZEN Graphite. As ZEN Graphene Solutions’ Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Francis Dubé explained, the current method of synthesizing graphene is “very chemically intensive.” However, “our current goal is to use less of these acids and chemicals to get the oxygen on the carbon [which can then link to polymer]. [This is] doable because of the uniqueness of this graphite’s layers.” The company describes its Albany Pure products as being sourced from “a rare, igneous related, hydrothermal graphite” with “the potential to produce a natural, high-purity graphite" through an “environmentally friendly purification process."

With more than 10 years’ experience in polymer processing and electromagnetic waves, Arjmand is confident in his team’s ability to refine the process: “Right now, I’m trying to bring it to industry.” He hopes that the success of this project will motivate industry to bring jobs back to Canada: “Creating multifunctional polymer nanocomposites is something that is currently outsourced… this project will allow that process to return to Canada.”

Partnering with ZEN Graphene Solutions is an initial step towards that goal. The collaboration was the winning bid in Phase 1 of the IDEaS program. Having provided proof of concept, the team hopes that Defence will advance the project to Phase 2, which comes with a $1 million grant to develop the prototype, and ultimately to the final stage of the program — $20 million to commercialize the product. Arjmand is optimistic. “Now is just the scaling [up] phase."


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