Graphene developer opens research centre in Kingston, Ont.

An Ottawa company developing uses for ultra-thin material graphene has opened a new technology centre in Kingston, hoping to come up with new ways to use and sell it.

Ottawa-based Grafoid working to make faster boats, oil spill solutions

The material graphene, a form of carbon, is seen on a table Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 in Ottawa. A new graphene research centre has been opened in Kingston, Ont., by Ottawa-based Grafoid. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

An Ottawa company developing uses for ultra-thin material graphene has opened a new technology centre in Kingston.

Graphene is a one atom-thick layer of graphite, a material used in pencil lead and hockey sticks. It is very strong and flexible, it conducts heat and electricity and it is waterproof.

Researchers say its potential uses include touch screens, solar panels and condoms, either on its own or mixed with other materials.

Grafoid Inc.'s new 225,000-square-foot "Innovation Park" will create 160 jobs and could help commercialize the technology, according to CEO Gary Economo.

"We are not in the market of selling our graphene material, what we do is we take the graphene and functionalize it, put it into polymers, and we'll create products with the polymers or coatings, for example," he said on CBC Radio's All in a Day on Monday.

"We can coat the bottom of a ship with our graphene material and it being hydrophobic, it will repel water and have a lot less friction on the boat, therefore saving fuel and having a faster boat."

He said other companies make graphene by vaporizing it and reassembling atoms on a piece of copper, costing $200 to $300 per gram, but they've patented a way to make the same amount for "pennies" using non-acidic chemicals.

Canada behind other countries

Economo says there’s an international race to develop graphene technology because, as a so-called "super-material," it could be extremely valuable to countries in the future.

Gary Economo poses for a portrait at his office Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

"Canada is a little late in the graphene scene against China, Korea, Japan, Germany and the U.K., but we are coming on very, very strong," he said.

"I believe that Canada will be a leader in the graphene space in the next few months."

He said using graphene for flexible electronics, including a shirt that can act like a solar panel to charge devices, is a few years away.

Grafoid is mostly working on medical uses in Kingston and a research centre in Singapore, along with its potential to help clean oil spills because it absorbs oil, but repels water.

There are health and environmental concerns about graphene, including how it would affect the ecosystem if it were to be spilled.