Codelco and Ennomotive challenged engineers to find creative uses for copper-graphene nanocomposite

Photo by Codelco

Following the development of a copper-graphene nanocomposite that adds 3% graphene to pure copper, Codelco Tech, a subsidiary of the world’s top copper producer, and engineering innovation firm Ennomotive chose three people to lead the creation of applications where the new material can be practically used.

One of the people leading the new applications is Julio Casal Ramos, an engineer from Venezuela currently living in Chile.

Casal Ramos has worked on finding ways to strengthen packaging materials so, with that experience under his sleeve, he came up with the idea of replacing copper alloys in mechanical systems where friction occurs with the stronger and more durable copper-graphene nanocomposite.

“Cu/G allows the replacement of the copper/bronze alloy since it improves the strength of the pieces, reduces their need for maintenance, and increases their lifespan. This is really useful in systems with fixed parts subjected to constant friction efforts caused by the mobile part’s slippage. According to recent studies, another benefit of this nanocomposite is its natural lubrication properties,” he said.

Engineer Julio Casal.

The nanocomposite can be also used in smart fabrics. This idea was brought onto the table by Fernanda Monasterio, a chemical engineer from Argentina who has worked in the field of material research and development.

According to Monasterio, the use of Cu/G, compared to just copper, would improve the mechanical strength while reducing the amount of material used in a fabric that is supposed to illuminate, heat, and/or transport electricity or data. “The market for these textiles is expected to reach $4.72 billion in 2020,” the engineer said.

Creating better absorption of lithium in batteries while reducing their cost is another application for the copper-graphene nanocomposite, Vivek Nair found.

Nair is an Indian engineer living in Singapore and leading Clean Carbon Technologies. He is currently in a quest to develop lithium-sulfur battery packs that have two times the energy density and performance of NMC811//Graphite batteries. By using Cu/G, the researcher was able to achieve an energy density of the battery of 1500 Wh/Kg – 2000 Wh/Kg.

“Being from the energy storage domain, I quickly got the idea of using the material to make batteries with higher energy density and rate capabilities,” he said.

The engineers presented their solutions at a challenge organized by Codelco Tech and Ennomotive to find ideas on potential applications in which the use of the new nanocomposite translates into a technical/economic improvements to existing materials.

In a press release, the companies informed that the challenge lasted for six weeks and received entries from 65 engineers from 15 countries, with Casal Ramos, Monasterio and Nair taking the first spots. The winners share a $15,000 prize and receive the backing of both firms to bring their solutions to market.