Is the EU’s big bet on graphene about to pay out?

Graphene’s spec sheet reads like a superhero’s profile. Two hundred times stronger than steel, a million times thinner than a human hair, and a thousand times more conductive than copper, it’s no surprise the substance is called a “wonder material.”

When the sheet of carbon was first isolated in 2004 at Manchester University, the breakthrough rocked the scientific world. Countless applications for the “miracle substance” were envisioned, from storing solar power to stitching batteries into bodies. At the EU, plans to capitalize on the material’s promise were drawn up.

In 2013, the bloc launched the Graphene Flagship, an initiative to commercialize the material. Backed by a €1 billion budget and nearly 170 academic and industrial partners spanning 22 countries, the project raised hopes of Europe becoming a graphene powerhouse. The early “graphene gold rush,” however, didn’t immediately lead to riches. But a promising sector is slowly emerging on the continent.

Graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice.