Michael Rosenberg 0:02
Good afternoon. My name is Mike Rosenberg. I'm a Professor of strategy here at IESE Business School, just up the street here in Barcelona. At our business school, we train MBA students, we do executive education, all kinds of stuff. I've been teaching strategy and sustainability and geopolitics, which has nothing to do with the session today, for the last few years. Today is my pleasure to welcome Yuri Gogotsi from Drexel University. We've got Frank Koppens, from ICFO, which is a research lab here in Barcelona, and Neil Ricketts from Versarian, which is a material science company that's doing a lot of interesting things with graphene and other cool stuff. So gentlemen it's a pleasure to have you here. We are next to this enormous mobility conference about cities. And what I'd like to try to explore today is a little bit of how Advanced Materials can help cities. We've got about 60% of the world population living in cities, urban living has tremendous challenges, in terms of sustainability, in terms of mobility, lots of things to fix, as we think about cities….and this session is all about how frontier materials can help with that. Yury, if you'd like I can start with you because you and your team are working on non-porous carbon that can make incredibly inexpensive energy storage devices or applications, if I understand it correctly, and that has huge implications for cities in terms of energy, water filtration, etc., can you comment a little bit about the kind of stuff you guys are working on?
Yury Gogotsi 1:43
Well, in my group of work we are actually working on a number of different materials, carbon nanomaterials, but also MXenes, 2D carbides and nitrides. And today in the morning, we heard, for example, about adding graphene to concrete. Infrastructure, big infrastructure is important. But it's very challenging for nanomaterials to make this big difference unless we take, for example, clay or graphite really, and exfoliate and add everywhere. But we are talking about smart cities. And seeing this exactly where you need to have nanomaterials to add this smartness. This smartness means sensing everything, and communicating. Plus, another thing I would like to add to this. I think building smart cities is about autonomy, and energy security. We were hit with a pandemic recently, and people forget they were trapped in their apartment in many countries for two weeks or four months. And now imagine you lose power, you lose water. And the situation when major accidents, whatever it is, war, terror attack or simply a failure of networks, which takes us off the grid. It's a matter I think of not if, but when it happens. So we need energy security, we need autonomous supply of energy power and water. And this is exactly where we need materials that can, for example, filter water, and actually in these big 10 million cities in Asia and Africa, quality of water is usually very bad, so people buy bottled water. So we need filters, that are more efficient, better working, and we need to be able to store energy to power in key devices that we need for communication for keeping our food supply available. And I think that this is where nanomaterials will make a difference.
Michael Rosenberg 4:02
You’re one of the best nanoscientists on the planet, at least I’ve been told.
Yury Gogotsi 4:06
Well, there are many bests across the planet.
Michael Rosenberg 4:09
Can you explain why this stuff works to me? I studied engineering, but I'm not a I'm not a nano expert? Why is non-porous carbon so important?
Yury Gogotsi 4:17
Well, again, there are a couple of things here. First, one misconception that exists with nanomaterials is that they are produced in nano quantities.; In fact, you take simple clay, those two dimensional flakes, just like graphene, when you separate them, you get the 2D material, when you embed it into a polymer and this is installed in pretty much every car bumper nowadays, you get better composite plastics. Seamless carbon, one of the oldest materials, porous-carbon, which was used in Egypt 3500 years ago, and we learn to control it. So nano is about controlling the structure. So we can have bulk quantities of materials. But if we can make pores, which are sub nanometers that can take toxic molecules but let the water go through, this can take salt as application of small voltage, but let's drinkable water goes through and beautify brackish water here. This is where nano plays a role, even if it is at that large scale Nano,
Michael Rosenberg 5:26
Okay, I understand you're also working on sensors because sensors are very important.
Yury Gogotsi 5:30
We do work on sensors, including as a material. And here, what we do, basically, Kostoya, told us today in the mornings that say graphene was the first material, but graphene alone is not enough. It just opens the door to many other materials. So what we do, we develop new materials that can do things that other materials can't. For example, materials that have metallic conductivity, but can be dispersed in water, and sprayed on the walls that we can print antennas, RFID tags, sensors anywhere from conducting in pure water solution, nothing else, particles and water. We can print a circuit on a wall in any room, on a door, in your closet, and I think this is what exactly will make smart cities, smart homes. When you not only just come in and turn the air conditioning on and then the temperature, say in Barcelona in summer, doesn't kill you, or you don't freeze in winter in Philadelphia, but you have sensors embedded in your jacket. And the sensor communicates through an antenna RFID tag in your jacket, and it senses temperature not in the room, but sense temperature on your skin. It feels whether you feel cold or hot, and adjusts the temperature in the house at the same time. So I think this is not science fiction,
Michael Rosenberg 6:58
This sounds like a young man from California who is talking about making science fiction real.
Yury Gogotsi 7:03
It is real! We can spray antennas, which are 10 times thinner and lighter compared to copper and just spray it anywhere, and this gives 99 or 98% efficiency. You can take this type of paint, paint the wall of the room and you will shield basically all electromagnetic waves coming from outside and protect the environment for people in the city, which are getting more and more polluted with electromagnetic radiation. So I think those are materials we are aiding. And those are the smart nanomaterials, which are available today, but we need to get them into real applications and smart cities isone of the most challenging applications. I mean we're not talking about few small devices going into our cell phones, we're talking about big cities with millions of people, so we need huge amounts of materials.
Michael Rosenberg 7:54
Frank, on the topic of centers, if I understand that correctly, the ICFO is about light. You're using light to make sensors, which can see in the rain and see in the dark. I'm not sure if you can explain that a little bit.
Frank Koppens 8:07
Right, so we want to give eyes to the smart cities. You can only be smart if you also see things. And the best thing is to give eyes that are better than the eyes of humans. To give you an example, cars. If cars are driving around, and right now Tesla cars have the same cameras that see the same stuff as we can see with our eyes, but then when it's misty, it's raining or it's dark, then sometimes these cars crash and have accidents. So, Elon Musk is not listening to this, but they need to buy our cameras. So with the nanomaterials and graphene and 2D material, you can make cameras that can see things that we cannot see as humans. But light is everywhere, there is lots of light that we cannot see there in the dark., and that allows you to see things in the dark, but also see through fog, seeing rainy weather. Or go even a step further, it can tell you what is the composition of an object. So it can tell you oh, this is made out of wood, this is made out of metal or this is a human and this is an animal.
Michael Rosenberg 9:29
Maybe we need those in the airports?
Frank Koppens 9:31
And so those are the real smart eyes that can get not only done to cars, but you can use them at airports, or robots can benefit from.
Michael Rosenberg 9:42
And Frank, another thing about cities is the enormous power consumption that cities have. Not only to light the city and everything else, but just to manage the data and data power consumption is going through the roof. And if I understand it, you're also working on changing electrical impulses for light which can reduce power consumption.
Frank Koppens 10:01
So if you look at the evolution of the Internet of Things and connected objects and connected cars, the amount of data is amazing. So actually just two self-driving cars can communicate between each other, they exchange terabytes of data just in a few seconds.
Michael Rosenberg 10:20
And terabit is a lot of data?
Frank Koppens 10:21
And if you project this, in about five years, 20% of the world's energy consumption will go just to data. Okay, so we're talking about making electric cars, but data consumption of just the Internet of Things is a real problem. And the only way to solve this is to basically make the power consumption of every bit, a factor of 10 to 100 times lower. And so for that, you need different concepts. You need to do everything, but light, not anymore with copper wires, so go to a data center right now, you see all these thick copper wires that are just becoming very hot, and they have to be cooled with water. That's really stupid. Okay, we need to do this with light. We know optical fibers work, we need to bring these light into chips, and integrate this with nanomaterials that then modulate the light and detect the light. And this has been done, for example, with graphene, it's a factor of 10X more efficient, next generation will hopefully make it 100X more efficient. And then we can, you know, dream of the Internet of Things and these kinds of things.
Michael Rosenberg 11:36
And Frank, again, your same question I asked Yury, why does nanoparticles do that? How does it work? Why? You know, again, can you explain it to someone who doesn't get it?
Frank Koppens 11:47
Yeah, so we like to think that silicone can do everything. But that's not true. So, silicone has its limitations, especially how silicone interacts with materials. So these nanomaterials, like graphene and, and other materials, they have a lot more tunability. So I can actually just tell the system to absorb light, or to not absorb light, just with a bit of voltage, just with a click on a button. And so for data communication this is actually the perfect material, right, because they can modulate transmission of light with a nearly zero power consumption, I don't need to drive currents or theses kinds of things you would like have to do with traditional modeling.
Michael Rosenberg 12:35
It sounds like magic to me.
Frank Koppens 12:39
They call it magic materials. But I don't want to go that far. Let's get it to work
Michael Rosenberg 12:45
We'll go back to magic in a minute. I know I ask all of you about magic. But before that, Neil, you and Frank are of course researchers. I mean, they they take they take research funds, they run, you know, really amazing institutes with lots and lots of researchers. Versarian is a private company, so can you give a little bit of the private industry point of view on all this. You’re venture backed, you're selling product, you're raising money, what's the private capital view of all this stuff.
Neill Ricketts 13:10
So we need to scale up. And we need to scale up really quickly. So the challenges that we're talking about, you know, the research is doing a fantastic job of identifying all of these fantastic applications. It's my job to take that magic that they're creating, and to actually turn it into things that we can use. Now, if you're going to change concrete, or you're going to change plastics, or carbon fiber, you can't do that making half a gram in a fume cupboard, which is where we were four or five years ago. So we've got to produce tons of the material. And what we're seeing is there aren't many applications that can't be altered by this new science.
Michael Rosenberg 13:45
So you say that, again, there's not there are not many things which cannot be altered, meaning you can use this all over the place.
Neill Ricketts 13:50
Yeah, I don't know of very many things that aren't improved through the use of this technology. So it doesn't matter whether you're talking about trainers, or you're talking about clothes, or you're talking about military aircraft, they all have benefits that can be achieved through these materials. The thing is, we don't actually know what we're doing at the moment. So this is a new science, and we're having to create the rules as we go through. Four or five years ago, we wouldn't have had the technology that we're talking about here, we wouldn't have known about it. So what we have to do is we have to translate that into something that's practical. So we've probably laid, you know, 1000 tons of concrete that’s been reinforced..
Michael Rosenberg 14:30
So, tell us about concrete because we're talking about cities. And and the cement industry, if it was a country, would be, I think, the eighth largest emitter of carbon on the planet. You know, cement, it takes a lot of carbon to make it. There's a lot of carbon in concrete, but as I understand you can reduce the carbon footprint of a concrete building or a concrete road or whatever, by up to 20%. How?
Neill Ricketts 14:51
Yeah, but there's a whole load of other advantages. So the hot topic at the moment is carbon dioxide but if you want to put a building up, you don't want to wait for it to cure, you want to be able to get add on to that concrete slab quicker. Graphene, you know, one of its top three prime properties is changing the thermodynamics of almost anything you put it into. So it doesn't matter whether it's plastic or it's concrete, you change the very thing that we've been doing for 100 years. And that's the thing that's happening now within this industry, is that we're really starting to challenge, as Frank and Yury said, the preconditions that we had before. So if we want to create lasers, or we want to create sensors, which are much better than we've ever had, we can do that. And Yury said, you know, we could have sensors on our arms that give us medical data.
Michael Rosenberg 15:44
I'm not sure I want sensors on my arm, if you will, I have a choice.
Neill Ricketts 15:45
Yeah, no, you will have a choice. But think about COVID. If we had access to all of that data, we wouldn't necessarily be wearing masks because we could grab that data straightaway. And so what we need is enabling technologies to bring some of this science fiction to life to create that magic. And that's what graphene is, it's enabling technology to really radically kind of change what we've been doing for 100 years.
Michael Rosenberg 16:09
So the concrete, how does graphene save carbon, just to be clar?
Neill Ricketts 16:14
So the creation of cement is an ecological problem. You've already mentioned that it has a huge downside, in terms of CO2. So what we do is by reducing the amount of concrete that's used, by changing the process by which concrete actually cures, using the graphene, using the thermodynamic properties of this new wonder material, we can then reduce the amount of cement that's used,
Michael Rosenberg 16:43
So I can pour less concrete. And it cures faster and it's stronger than the alternative?
Neill Ricketts 16:51
So my background, I'm not an academic, I'm an engineer. And for me, I have a toolkit. I go, and graphene is one of those tools in the toolkit now. I mean, just in the UK, there's 250,000 miles of road. I can't remember the statistics about how much concrete is poured worldwide, but it's huge. What we now know about graphene is what started off as a very, very clever idea in a university has now been scientifically and independently proven to give big benefits. We're talking 30, 40, 50% improvements in some of the mechanical properties. Now as an engineers, we look for tenths of a percent every year. I supplied that at one stage, the Formula One industry, where we measured everything in tenths of a second or hundreds of a second, but what we're seeing here, big, big step changes in almost all of the applications that we're looking at.
Michael Rosenberg 17:44
And just to stick with you just for a moment, then we'll go to your questions. If you have some Versarian, I understand it has different material lines. Now, I think you told me that you're investing in some materials, mainly because you think that tomorrow you'll be able to put graphene and other advanced materials in them and actually make better, cheaper, brighter stuff. Is that correct?
Neill Ricketts 18:04
Yeah, I think graphene has its benefits. But one of the downsides to graphene, you put it in anything, it's black. And so you know, if that's a textile application or a plastic application, you need to find a different material. So you might use a few layer hexagonal boron nitride…
Michael Rosenberg 18:20
You might use what?
Neill Ricketts 18:22
Few layer hexagonal boron nitride
Michael Rosenberg 18:23
Yeah, we all know what that is, like graphene. Okay.
Neill Ricketts 18:27
It’s white graphene. So, you know, that has some of the similar properties of graphene, when you get it down to these few layer and single layer configurations. But it has some different properties. So graphene is highly electrically conductive, hexagonal boron nitride isn't. So you can exploit these different properties in devices. The thing is, and this is the thing I tell a lot of people, when I was an apprentice, we made things to a 1,000th of an inch, and we thought we were really, really clever. And then machine tools improved, and processes improved and we got down to like microns. So when I was doing advanced coatings, in the motor racing field, it was, you know, microns. And now we're looking at, you know, building these devices up in an atomic layer. I don't think people understand how far the materials world has gone in a relatively short period of time. It's a very, very exciting time to be either an engineer or scientist.
Michael Rosenberg 19:19
Fantastic, fantastic. I don't know if we have a microphone. If there's any questions from the audience. I've got more questions myself, if you don't have them, and the light is kind of in my eyes, but that's okay. We have a question here. Do we have a microphone for the gentlemen? And if you sir, if you could say who you are and where you're from, before you ask your question. That'd be very helpful.
PUZZLE X Audience Member 19:40
Thank you very much. I am (inaudible) from a graphene company. . I really like your comment about the black color of graphene once you put it in anything it becomes black. There is another disadvantage, I believe once you put graphene in anything, it becomes expensive. Can you comment on the price in the future years? Thank you
Michael Rosenberg 20:00
I guess Neill 's for you, because it's about cost and scale, I guess.
Neill Ricketts 20:03
We don't like to use the terminology cost, we like to use value for money. But the reality is that graphene will not be a commercial success, it will always be a scientific experiment, unless we bridge that gap into making it available for everything. And so what we've been spending an awful lot of time doing is getting the clever ideas from academia and then industrializing those ideas. Exactly the same as we did with steel or silicon, it starts off with a very, very small scale, and then it works its way up. So there's no doubt in my mind that as graphene expands in terms of its usage, and there's some quite frightening requirements in the future, that the cost will have to come down, but the cost will come down as a result of improving the efficiency of the process,
Michael Rosenberg 20:51
We were talking about some specific applications. And if I understand it, it's not about the amount of graphene that you're putting into the application, it's about how much other materials you are saving. So the overall cost of the product at the end, is significantly less than it would have been without the graphene.
Neill Ricketts 21:06
We tried to get clients to think about the overall costs. So, for instance, in some of the concrete experiments we've done, it's about the whole life cost. We've removed steel and replaced that with polypropylene, and graphene reinforced material.
Michael Rosenberg 21:22
So you take out the rebar?
Neill Ricketts 21:23
We’re taking out the rebar. So there's a saving because you don't need the guys there. We’re just about to get a machine delivered into Long Hope, which is a little village where I live and where steel was actually not far created. And that's going to 3D print structures. So you might say, well, why would you 3D print, but if you think that it's about the cost of actually being able to do that on the side of a railway or in a forward operating base for a military application, it's about the overall cost and implications. So when you talk about smart cities, you may be able to deliver your structures directly on the site without a team of bricklayers, a team of plaster, a team of electricians having to work on site, it will be delivered as a prefabricated building.
Michael Rosenberg 22:06
Yury and, Frank, do you guys think about cost in the lab or are you guys off in the laboratory doing whatever it costs and who cares?
Yury Gogotsi 22:14
Well, we do but again, you know, look, it's not that simple of an issue. On the one hand, one important factor to remember, whenever we have materials made of earth’s abundant elements, it is just a simple matter of engineering to produce them at low cost.
Michael Rosenberg 22:24
So carbon is everywhere, right?
Yury Gogotsi 22:25
Good example is aluminum. In 19th century, the most important guests in French court were served aluminum silverware, instead of gold and silver, because it was the most expensive metal with magic property, light, non corroding things. Now for us aluminum is a symbol basically of something low cost. So whenever we have carbon or titanium carbide maxene, or other materials made of abundant elements, it is its economy of scale that will make them less expensive. But that's the thing they say that is also important to remember, we need to think a little bit outside the box, there are certain things that can be done by this material that simply can not be performed by the current materials here. And this is what really becomes a game changer. We can talk about a smart city putting in thick walls that will keep our buildings safe and warmer, but we can talk about putting few nanometer in, 15 millimeters thin layer of materials, that does not reemit infrared light, for example, like titanium carbide, maxene and keeps us warm. So basically our body heat will not escape. And one way is extensive building, basically thicker walls, putting more thermal insulation, in other ways, is basically looking differently at the same problem and saving potentially much, much more energy. And this is where nanomaterials make a difference.
Michael Rosenberg 24:20
Frank, I mean, you were telling me about buildings which can cool and heat themselves, is that right?
Frank Koppens 24:25
So that's not yet commercial, but it has been commercial not by me but by others. It's an interesting idea that you can shape materials such that they easily release heat, so it works as cooling that doesn't absorb the sunlight. And you can do this in a very clever way, such that you know, a certain spectrum of the light is not absorbed and another part of the spectrum of the light is emitted in a better way and in that way you can actually cool buildings without using air conditioning or without losing power. So it's a passive material. Just put it there and it will cool.
Michael Rosenberg 25:03
So the building might cost a little bit more, but there's no power, there's no air conditioning, there's no HVAC and no maintenance. There's another question from the audience before I go to my yeah, there's a gentleman at the front, if someone could bring the gentlemen a microphone. And sir, if you could say who you are.
PUZZLE X Audience Member 25:27
Hi, I am (inaudible) from UPC in Catalonia. I work with graphene as well, but not at that level. And one of the questions that I have is that science exists, technology exists now. But it's far from being commercialized and there's a big gap from the infrastructure that exists in the companies and they don't want to give it up. So what's the solution between the to take the science that exists now to the commercial market. This used to be with production of graphene, but now there are many methods to produce graphene, but still commercializing this kind of materials is a problem.
Michael Rosenberg 26:10
Thank you so much. Let me start with these guys and go to you Neill. So from your laboratory work, are you thinking about commercialization or are you just trying to make stuff which does amazing things?
Frank Koppens 26:24
So one thing that I like to mention is that a company that I've created last year, if any of these applications would be far away, this company could not exist.
Frank Koppens 26:41
The company that I founded would not be able to exist if commercialization was far away. So I don't think that commercialization is far away. The one example that is also boiling down to cost is that now graphene, you can integrate on wafer scale. So if you want to make sensors, for example, you need to produce them at high volumes. And you can do this on silicon wafers where you can integrate the sensor directly with a readout electronics. And this is already possible on wafer scale, you can already buy machines that produce graphene, on the size of a wafer at two and a millimeter, three millimeter. And what is happening right now is that a pilot Foundry is also being built in order to produce the full fetched sensors.
Michael Rosenberg 27:33
The time scales and time scale is 10 or 20 years ago?
Frank Koppens 27:36
No, no, no, this, this foundry service will be up and running already in two years from now.
Michael Rosenberg 27:42
Okay, but it's been 10 or 15 years since we started playing with graphene.
Frank Koppens 27:45
Yes, but, it means that two years from now, you can just order online, you can go online, you can say I want this type of sensor with this type of structure and you can get the full wafer out of the box.
Michael Rosenberg 28:00
And Yury at Drexel, are you guys thinking about industrialization? Do you have a group which does that, or is that someone else's problem?
Yury Gogotsi 28:07
Probably about 50% of funding in my group, so around 10 to 15 people, at least, are funded by various industrial projects. We work with a number of companies, large and small companies. So we are working on finding practical applications, solving real life problems with our materials. But it does take time. This is simply the reality. Yes, work on graphene started 15 years ago, and our first products are entering the market right now. Introduction of new materials, I think is actually, is accelerating compared to what we had, say 50 years ago. But it is still impossible to go from an idea from the first sample in the lab, to large volume manufacturing. And your question was actually right that if you find a way to introduce new material to make something better without changing anything in the process, this is one of the winning approaches. I have a former postdoc Gleb Yushan, who is professor at Drexel, who started Salinan technologies, making silicon anodes. And the key approach there was that they could make the materials that could be put into existing processes, existing batteries, no change in the equipment instead of conventional graphite, and the company is now valued close to $4 billion in less than 10 years.
Michael Rosenberg 29:39
Neill on the same question, how do you convince the board to give you enough time to make things real?
Neill Ricketts 29:44
So what we have is a portfolio. We have those applications which are high value low volume niche products. So there was a wristwatch a few years ago we were involved with, with McLaren and Richard Melay, there were only 75 made, but each watch was $1.3 million each. So there was enough, there was enough margin, I haven't got one for you, I can give you a mask. So you have a portfolio of products. So you start off with a niche, real kind of specialist application. And then you move further and further towards it. So today we announced in London that we're working with one of the largest textile manufacturers about getting a product to market very, very quickly. And that's because it solves a very genuine problem and creates a product which is unique. So that's not a huge volume in terms of, you know, hundreds of 1000s of tons of concrete, but is making an impact.
Michael Rosenberg 30:42
As then as the cost curve comes down, you find the volume. Gentleman, we got about a minute and a half left. Frank, 20 seconds, how do you see the world?
Frank Koppens 30:51
How long? Like Kostoya said this morning, in 20 years from now, we cannot predict. But I do think that in about five, in about two to five years, we're going to see these nanomaterials, everywhere integrated in our, for example, sensors and our clothing.
Michael Rosenberg 31:20
Yury, same question.
Yury Gogotsi 31:20
I think within the next decade or so, wearable technology, smart clothing will change our life the same way as laptop computers and cell phones changed our society. I think we'll move into a new era for distributed communication, sensing and smart everything around us.
Michael Rosenberg 31:43
Neill Ricketts 31:45
So I think what took us 10 years will probably take us five years this time. So if you think 10 years ago, we were still playing around with, you know, without smartphones. Now when you know, the technology that's about to come will make such an impact in our life, we'll wonder what it was like before. So I agree. You know, things like wearables, medical, all of these applications that will really change our lives. So I'm really looking forward to it. It's a really exciting time.
Michael Rosenberg 32:13
Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us at PUZZLE X. We're exactly out of time. Thank you, everybody. There'll be a next session coming up in a few moments. Thank you!