When President Xi Jinping visited BGT Materials Ltd based in the University of Manchester in October, he was shown the world's first graphene light bulb, which was manufactured in China.
The light bulb's global launch will begin in the United Kingdom this month, carrying with it the potential to change the lighting industry.
The UK-registered BGT claimed its graphene bulb has a longer lifespan and entails relatively cheaper production costs, and could emerge as a strong rival to the popular LED lights.
Graphene's ability to dissipate heat quicker than other materials will also give manufacturers more flexibility in designing lighting systems.
BGT, which contracts out manufacturing to suppliers in China, estimates sales of its product will reach 300,000 to 500,000 bulbs this year. The company said it would disclose more details like price at a later stage as they are confidential now.
It is expected that an 80-watt graphene bulb might be priced 5-6 pounds ($7.2-8.7) in the UK against 20 pounds for an LED bulb in the same range.
Graphene is one of the most interesting inventions of modern times. As a thin layer of pure carbon, it is tougher than a diamond, yet very lightweight and easily conducts electricity and heat. It has been used for a wide variety of applications, from strengthening tennis racket to building semiconductors.
Graphene was first isolated from the graphite mineral at the University of Manchester by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in 2004. The achievement earned them the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010. Owing to its short history, its commercial potential is yet to be unlocked.
It is used by the Austrian sports equipment firm Head to strengthen tennis rackets. Italian firm Vittoria uses graphene to strengthen bicycle tires.
Thanks to Xi's visit, the University of Manchester's National Graphene Institute has signed deals with two Chinese entities－telecommunications major Huawei Technologies Corp and the Beijing Institute of Aeronautical Materials.
The NGI-BIAM deal focuses on using graphene for transport. For its part, BIAM has brought Aviation Industry Corporation of China into the project.
"The level of interest from Chinese companies keen to work with us really took off since the state visit, and we received many enquiries," said James Baker, graphene business director at the NGI.
The cooperation project with Huawei currently focuses on research into graphene's thermal management properties, which can be useful to enhance Huawei's products.
The cooperation with BIAM and AVIC is to conduct research on how to incorporate graphene into materials used in the aviation and other transport sectors.
Robert Young, a professor of polymer science and technology, who leads the NGI's cooperation with BIAM and AVIC, said the use of graphene in the transport industry can lead to significant benefits.
"Graphene is a strong lightweight material and in the transport industry it's important to save weight and become fuel-efficient," Young said.
China has already invested heavily and made it a strategically important new material in its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), which sets out the country's development objectives for the period.
China has also established five graphene industrial parks to accelerate the industrialization of the material. The parks are located in Changzhou, Wuxi, Ningbo, Qingdao and Chongqing. Currently, 70 percent of graphene's raw material, graphite, is found in China, giving Chinese graphene manufacturers a big advantage.
According to statistics from the UK's National Physical Laboratory, China has applied for 47 percent of the world's total graphene patents, and is currently the world's biggest applicant country.
All these efforts are aimed at unlocking the country's huge graphene market potential. The Beijing-based market intelligence firm ResearchInChina estimates that China's graphene market will grow to 200 million yuan ($30.7 million) in 2018, compared with the global market of $65 million. In comparison, the global market in 2015 was only worth $24.4 million.
"China's high-tech manufacturing industry, ability to invest heavily in the graphene sector and its abundance of highly qualified graphene industry talents all contribute to its advantages in the graphene industry," said Young.
China has also stressed on the implementation of high graphene quality standards domestically to help unlock this industry's potential, with the help of British expertise.
In March 2015, NPL signed an agreement with the Beijing-based Zhongguancun Fengtai Science Park and the Beijing Fengtai New Materials Inspection Institute. NPL will help the Chinese organizations adapt global standards to China's specific needs.
Hao Ling, NPL's principal research scientist, said the establishment and enforcement of graphene standards internationally is of vital importance for this industry's growth, especially as it helps companies that use graphene as a raw material in their products, to be assured of the material's quality.
"By having a national standard in China in line with international standards, we can certify graphene outputs in China, so that international importers would want to buy from Chinese graphene manufacturers. This would allow China's graphene manufacturing industry to grow," said Hao.
Currently, global standards are developed by two major international bodies－the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission. There are six major areas of standards to be established, of which graphene definition will be the first to be announced.
"Graphene has become increasingly high on the Chinese government's agenda, as shown by the government's recognition of graphene as a key new material in its 13th Five-Year Plan, and also by the establishment of the International Graphene Center in Beijing last year. Given these investments, China's graphene research will grow and China could contribute more to discussions on international graphene standards in the future," said Hao.
Meanwhile, cooperation between private graphene firms in the UK and China is also picking up pace, and one example is Haydale Graphene Industries, based in South Wales.
In April, Haydale established a partnership with the Taiwan-based Dowton Electronic Minerals, to manufacture graphene-enhanced screen printable ink for the Asian market.
Its graphene ink has a number of applications. The key one is a high and consistent performing conductive graphene ink aimed as an alternative to the silver-based biomedical sensors. Haydale's CEO Ray Gibbs sees China and other Far East countries as a key potential market.
"China has a big potential market for graphene application products, especially because of the prominence of China's internet of things technologies, and graphene is an important component that can improve the IoT sensors' functions," Gibbs said.