The UK has traditionally held a position of strength in materials science and has successfully transferred it to the area of advanced materials where it is a world leader in materials such as Graphene and Gallium Nitride (GaN).
This provides several opportunities for UK and Indian start-ups to access funding, collaborate with British businesses and R&D organisations to further develop their advanced materials innovations and technologies and commercialise them internationally. The Triple Chasm Company is running a UK-India Tech Start-up Accelerator in partnership with Cambridge Cleantech to support Indian tech-startups working on advanced materials to engage with the UK advanced materials ecosystem.
Advanced materials are designed with a purpose to have novel or enhanced properties and improve performance over conventional materials, products, and processes, for example Graphene. Some advanced materials are entirely new, with their own characteristics and are made from one or more existing materials, for example, fibreglass. Innovation support for the design, development, testing, and upscaling of advanced materials can enable a vast array of applications ranging from new affordable, lightweight, robust, and durable composite materials for automobiles and aviation to the development of GaN and its alloys for high-power switching and Radio Frequency (RF) power amplification applications.
Advanced materials can have a transformational impact in existing industries and the potential to create entirely new industries. In July 2021, the new Innovation Strategy announced by the UK government highlighted Advanced Materials as part of one of the 7 technology families vital to the UK’s future economic growth. Opportunities identified are Metamaterials, 2D materials, Self-healing and animate materials and Composite structures. A follow-on opportunity is in manufacturing these advanced materials at scale which requires new technologies and processes.
The 2010 Nobel prize in Physics was awarded to University of Manchester scientists for advances in Graphene. Since then, billions of pounds have been poured into research and development to transform the underlying materials science to usable products. In the UK, funding for Graphene has been targeted at top universities with a view to support not only materials science research but also industrial collaborations. In late 2012, a Graphene investment fund of £21.5m was announced and this was matched by an additional £14m coming from the universities and their collaborators. Further investments into R&D Grant funding and business support means that Graphene based products have started entering the market.
GaN is being targeted at applications such as LEDs for lighting, high-power switching, and Radio Frequency (RF) power amplification applications. The University of Cambridge has a very strong and long-established position in research and commercialisation, through the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride at the Department for Materials Science and Metallurgy. The centre is one of the very few locations with proximity of equipment, material characterisation and measurement facilities and the theoretical underpinning needed to better understand physical properties. Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK government's research funding arm, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the centre is continuing to push the boundaries of GaN research.
The UK’s strong research base also extends into the broader manufacturing and materials theme, particularly in areas such as engineering, light-weighting technologies, materials integration, formulation and industrial biotechnology. In addition, organisations such as the High Value Manufacturing Catapult act as the catalyst for the growth of UK advanced manufacturing, by helping speed up the journey from technology concept to commercialisation. The seven centres that comprise the High Value Manufacturing Catapult have capabilities that span basic raw materials through to high integrity product assembly processes.
These are the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), Centre for Process Innovation, Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), National Composites Centre (NCC), Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC) and Warwickshire Manufacturing Group.
To continue its support for Advanced Materials, the UK government has an open call for evidence to gather insight into this interesting area using open questions and assess the responses with its Advanced Materials Scoping Group.
The UK-India Tech Start-up Accelerator, currently run by the Triple Chasm Company, is a key component of continuing collaboration between UK and India to support the commercialisation of novel technologies developed in India. The 2022 cohort has the deep-tech startup Agnit Semiconductors working on next-generation, beyond-Silicon electronic components based on Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductors. Their GaN based solutions enable 5G telecom towers and efficient, compact electric vehicle charging solutions among other applications.
Other companies such as International Centre for Nanodevices are also participating in the accelerator.