Lightweight composites for space habitat win 2021 Eli Harari Graphene Enterprise Award

The 2021 Eli and Britt Harari Awards for Graphene Enterprise has been won by Vivek Koncherry for his project entitled ‘Space Habitat Architecture’ – a concept around lightweighting for composite materials with application on earth and beyond.

The first prize of £50,000, awarded on Friday 9 July, will go towards developing the concept further within the Graphene@Manchester innovation ecosystem, alongside access to specialist equipment and expertise at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC).

Dr Koncherry, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Materials at The University of Manchester, has already shown his entrepreneurial abilities around 2D materials, with his SpaceMat product using waste rubber to deliver high-performing recycled flooring to market.

This next innovation proposes to raise the technology readiness level of new composites for space applications, using the model of future habitats on the Moon and Mars.

Vivek’s team was supported with design and engineering concepts by US architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the firm behind the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Watch Vivek’s short video pitch for Space Habitat Architecture

The second prize of £20,000 was awarded to Niting Zeng, a teaching assistant in the Directorate for Student Experience at Manchester, for CATALight: a wastewater treatment system that uses a combination of sunlight and 2D materials to degrade pollutants via so-called ‘photocatalysis’.

The product will reduce costs in numerous ways, including electricity usage, machinery investment, maintenance and construction activities, crucially fitting into existing systems of water treatment.

The judging panel – drawn from senior leadership at the University, including the Masood Entrepreneurship Centre (MEC) and the GEIC – were full of praise for all five finalists in the competition and stressed the potential for further development of Deaking Bio-hybrid Materials, Clean Energy Underground and Nanocomb Technologies, more details of which are available via the links below.

Vivek Koncherry said: “I want to thank all the organisers of the awards for all the help and support they’ve given me throughout. I did my undergrad, Master’s, PhD and now post-doc all at Manchester, so I feel like part of the family and there’s an ecosystem here to support innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Manufacturing a scale-model of a space habitat is an ambitious task and this award will bring my dream of doing that one step closer.

“To do something big, you need partners and we’re also open to collaboration to do something as challenging as building a permanent settlement in space.”

Lynn Sheppard, Director of MEC and chair of the judging panel, said: “Both of the winning ideas in this year’s awards truly exemplify this competition and I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of you in the future.”

Advanced materials is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons – examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons


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