CUMI is developing graphene-based composites for lighter, stronger aerostructures

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  • Jun 26,23
Murugappa Group’s Carborundum Universal Limited (CUMI) is extensively working in the field of graphene manufacturing. Graphene is 10,000 times thinner than human hair and 1,000 times lighter than paper, says N Ananthaseshan, Managing Director, CUMI in this interview while talking more about various usage of the material in different industries like defence and aerospace.
CUMI is developing graphene-based composites for lighter, stronger aerostructures

Can you brief about Carborundum Universal Limited?
Carborundum Universal Limited (CUMI) is leading materials sciences engineering solutions provider and part of the 120-year-old Murugappa Group. We are Mines to Market Company with integrated operations that include mining, power generation, fusion, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. 

Our team of 5,500 employees worldwide works to innovate and develop high-quality material solutions and world-class services in abrasives, electro minerals, ceramics, refractories and energy storage materials. We serve customers in diverse industries including engineering, aerospace and defence, fabrication, auto and auto components, infrastructure, steel, glass, power generation and distribution, and mining. CUMI has a wide geographical presence spanning six continents. We export products to over 50 countries.

CUMI is a top manufacturer of ceramics, abrasives, refractory products and electro-minerals. Can you brief us about your manufacturing facilities and where are they located?
CUMI has a large footprint of manufacturing facilities across India, Russia, and South Africa. This includes plants manufacturing abrasives located in Thiruvottiyur and Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu, and Roorkee in Uttarakhand; an industrial ceramics plant in Hosur, Tamil Nadu; a refractories plant and a composites plant in Ranipet, Tamil Nadu. The Electro Minerals Division of CUMI, also known as CUMI Minerals, has facilities in Kerala, Gujarat, Russia, and South Africa.

CUMI’s recently established 12,000 sq ft facility for commercial production of graphene. What are the features of the state-of-the-art facility?
In 2020, we commissioned our special facility to manufacture various grades of graphene and allied products suitable for applications in composites, coating, and energy areas. The 12,000 sq ft facility can process six lakh litres per year of varying grades of graphene powders, besides producing master batches in different kinds of elastomers, thermosetting and thermoplastic polymers. 

Our facility also offers proprietary formulations of graphene additives useful for applications in concrete, anti-corrosion, and anti-microbial applications. The facility has a state-of-the-art application lab well equipped with various types of particle characterisation equipment like laser particle size analysers, Coulter Multisizer and BET surface area analysers. The lab also has an FTIR spectrometer, SEM and various electro-mechanical characterisation equipment.

What is the significance of the MoU signed by CUMI with the Digital University of Kerala? How will it lead to further developments?
Graphene has emerged as an exotic nanomaterial of the 21st century due to its exceptional electrical, thermal, optical, and mechanical properties. It is 10,000 times thinner than human hair and 1,000 times lighter than paper. At the same time, it is one of the most fatigue-resistant materials. Recent studies indicate that graphene-based materials can have a profound impact on composites, specialty coatings, electronic and optoelectronic devices, chemical sensors, nanocomposites, and energy storage.  

Yet, while graphene offers immense potential to be a game-changing nanomaterial, large-scale commercialisation of graphene is yet to happen, especially in India. Enabling this needs investment in research to overcome the challenges of cost, identifying the right type of graphene for each application, along with consistent availability and the expertise needed to process it.  CUMI has been a pioneer when it comes to graphene manufacturing, and we are committed to realising its potential by developing application knowledge, ensuring consistent availability, and identifying the right type of graphene for the right application. 

Our partnership with the Digital University of Kerala is a step to encourage further research and development on graphene and unleash new and exciting applications for graphene.  

How will graphene-based composites benefit the Indian aerospace and defence industry? What will be their applications?
The high strength, flexibility, light weight, and high thermal/electrical conductivity of graphene make it an ideal material for aerospace applications. 

For the aerospace and defence industry, CUMI is working to develop graphene-based composites which can be used to create lighter and stronger aerostructures and body armour products. CUMI’s research team has filed a patent for the preparation of highly conductive grades of nitrogen-doped graphene through instantaneous thermal processing. This grade of graphene finds applications in super-capacitors, batteries, and fuel cells.

With extensive R&D backing it, we are hoping to drive pioneering research and applications for graphene, which will revolutionise the materials industry in the years to come.

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