According to many, graphene is the material of the future with unlimited potential to change the world.

Head of Research and Development at Imagine Intelligent Materials, Phil Aitchison, is quick to counter the hyperbole, noting that some of what is said and written about graphene is nonsense.

However, he believes that it does have enormous potential.

“The real miracle of graphene is that you can do these things that can be done otherwise but graphene can do better,” Mr Aitchison said.

“You can do things that were extremely difficult before and very expensive to do.”

Imagine Intelligent Materials have already successfully introduced graphene to Australia’s mining industry where it used as a sensor to track the movement of trucks on the mine’s roads. Another use is in irrigation where it has been used to reduce water wastage by detecting leaks in channels.

But Mr Aitchison’s big vision is to make every surface a sensing surface, able to provide feedback on what’s happening to the object the graphene has been applied to.

One example to immediately leap to mind is roads. Graphene could be added as a layer during the road’s construction and, once complete, it would be able to provide data on how much it’s being used and how it’s faring.

“In our factory in Geelong we built a bitumen road. We put [the graphene] into the road base and we could tell the difference between a child and a truck,” he said.

Another area of interest is structural health monitoring. The technology is in its infancy but Mr Aitchison believes that their technology could predict events like what happened at Opal Tower and Mascot Towers in Sydney.

“What we’ve done in the lab is we’ve taken a piece of concrete, coated it one side. The concrete moves, expands, bends and we can measure that,” he said.

With this technology only just beginning, Mr Aitchison used a Global Connections Grant to approach world-leading polymer and geotechnical experts at the University of Oklahoma to discover the full potential of graphene.

“These grants are great because it’s fast and easy. They’re not big, but they start a relationship which may or may not continue,” he said.

“But the alternative is everybody spends a huge amount of time and effort building up this big process to get something and it doesn’t happen. And then it all just falls by the wayside.”

For Imagine Intelligent Materials, it hasn’t fallen by the wayside.

The grant provided them with the opportunity to establish a relationship with some of the best polymer and geotechnical experts in the world which can only help the company succeed in its quest to be a world leader in graphene technology.

Profile of Mr Aitchison written for the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering as part of a review of their Global Connections Grant.