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LOMBARDY: THE “HOME” OF GRAPHENE


LOMBARDY: THE “HOME” OF GRAPHENE

Fifty times stronger than steel, with exceptionally high thermal conductivity and low density, useful in many industrial processes and in the development of many finished products, graphene was first synthesised in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester. For this, they won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010. Directa Plus, an Italian start-up founded in 2005, has designed a system for producing graphene at competitive prices, using common graphite. This keeps down the costs of producing carbon particles of just one molecule in width, ideal for use in many applications.

“Directa Plus is a technology start-up created with the goal of developing processes for continuous, economical and sustainable production of nanomaterials, resulting in low product cost, low production system costs, using raw materials with low environmental footprints, and keeping the consumption costs down for production and usage,” explains Giulio Cesareo, President and Administrative Director. “For this reason, after working on a production process (D ) for creating nanoparticles and metallic nano-alloys (Fe, CO, Ni) that can replace platinum in catalytic processes, we focused on natural graphite as a starting point for creating carbon nanoparticles. Natural graphite is a widely available, low-cost material rather than being found only in a few, geopolitically sensitive, regions, (as is the case of “rare earths” in China, for example). Furthermore, it has an advantage over its main competitors, carbon black or lampblack, in not being produced by burning mineral oils derived from petroleum, avoiding the harmful toxicity such materials produce.” Therefore, he goes on to add, “we like to think that we are creating paradoxical innovation: we use carbon as a tool to move onto a new industrial era that is much less dependent on fossil fuels.”

Directa Plus is based in Lomazzo, in the Province of Como (Lombardy) and employs 30 people, including employees and consultants, who work on projects – each project is an application – with the common founding goals shared by the two business units in order of priority: D has the primary goal of creating a product for a new generation of catalytic converters, while its secondary goal is the creation of nano-alloys that can replace the platinum currently used in catalytic processes. Meanwhile, G has the primary goal of producing various types of graphene, and their integration into the matrices required by various applications according to the company’s overall strategic priorities (bicycle tyres, cars, elastomers, plastics, etc.)

“For Directa Plus,” explains Cesareon, “the production of graphene is above all an enabling technology, capable of bringing radical change to the markets in the near future thanks to its many potential applications. Our business agreements are genuine partnerships, aimed at jointly developing innovative applications to evolve existing products and design new ones that are less polluting and harmful through the use of graphene’s revolutionary properties. At this moment, we are working with the Victoria Group on the production of pneumatic bicycle tyres, and for technical rubber products (with Reda Group). With regard to water and air purification, car tyres, textiles and paints, Directa Plus has already begun testing with potential industrial partners.” The business is clearly growing, both at home and abroad: “We are in Germany working on the D system with the ZSW foundation, and we’ll be opening a G business unit in Thailand during H1 2013 in a joint venture with Gruppo Vittoria.”

From the financial perspective, Directa Plus is a start-up, so turnover for 2011 was “particularly low” but, Cesareo affirms, “we believe we can double it in 2012, and reach break-even in 2013.” In any case, the turnover is almost entirely spent on innovation and research (82%). That innovation is the key: “For us, innovation also means innovation in organisation,” says Cesareo, “based on an empathic rather than a hierarchical model, and one that values individual skills and diversity. We want to build a business that has the courage to invest in today’s youth throughout the country, reversing the old slogan of ‘think global, act local’ and changing it to ‘think local, act global’ to favour ideas that are born here, but find their applications at a global level.”

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