With 100 times the strength of steel, the thermal properties of diamond and better electrical conductivity than copper, carbon nanomaterials have immense promise in a range of applications. Thanks to a group of alumni from the Cambridge Executive MBA, their commercial potential may very soon be opened up.
A team consulting project
For their team consulting project on the Executive MBA, Benoit Gauthier and a group of fellow participants co-founded the Cambridge Nano-Manufacturing Alliance to produce a game-changing partnership between academia and industry. Its goal is to lower the adoption barrier for nanomaterials across key sectors, bringing them to a sustainable level of mass production and finding ways to commercialise them safely in real-world applications.
Benoit first appreciated the potential of nanotechnology when he met Dr Krzysztof Koziol, Head of the Electric Carbon Nanomaterials Group at the University’s Department of Materials Science. Dr Koziol says: “What we’re trying to do is explore how we can take these exciting, high-performance materials and bring them to everyday use.
“The Nano-Manufacturing Alliance will enable the transfer of the ideas and technology that we generate in this department into the outside world, which otherwise might be very difficult. Often we find those ideas are killed because it’s difficult to bring them to the commercial stage.”
The Team Consulting Project – a compulsory part of the programme – is a practical exercise that often has a direct and immediate impact on participants’ working lives. Benoit, who is Head of Finance and Administration at Airbus Helicopters in Chile, has been able to involve his own company from the beginning.
He says: “The idea is to have non-competing companies within the Alliance, in order to create a collaborative approach and open innovation. The involvement of Airbus Group within the Alliance is to be a demand driver – pulling the technology and research towards applications that they already have. For example, embedding nanocarbon in the composite bodies of cars, aircraft or even satellites.”
Entrepreneurial skills to the test
Benoit chose to take his EMBA at Cambridge University for its entrepreneurial ethos, and because it granted access to an unrivalled wealth of knowledge and ideas across many different fields. “I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship but never been able to test it throughout my career,” he says. “Cambridge is one of the biggest technological clusters in the world. How could I resist coming to Cambridge and having access to this open innovation platform that is almost 800 years old?”
Accordingly, the Alliance is fostering cross-disciplinary research at the University. “We are talking to our colleagues from the Department of Engineering and from Physics – trying to work together as a team, and to think of the exciting projects we will be able to bring to the Alliance for further exploration,” says Dr Koziol.
Working remotely with team members
What’s more, Benoit’s fellow members of the Team Consulting Project – Eddie Elcomb, Mohamed Lamin and Chris Weeks – are still very much involved. Eddie says: “We keep in touch on Skype and Google Hangouts, and every time we’ve all been in Europe or the UK we’ve met. We were in Cambridge recently to discuss the Alliance with Krzysztof.
“We’ve found someone who is keen to take on the role of principal to pull things together and manage it on a day-to-day basis. Our role is more ambassadorial – going out there, speaking to people and drumming up commitment. We’re very keen to have a formal launch this year, and have been working really hard towards it.”