30 January 2020
Written by Juan Palenzuela, Associate
Edited by David Gaffney, Partner
Good morning, For most of the period since its theoretical discovery in 1947, graphene was nothing more than an imaginary oddity for physicists. It was thought to be impossible to produce, let alone at a large scale. But Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov from the University of Manchester were having none of that. One Friday night back in 2004, they decided to have a go at synthesising graphene, and they succeeded, by pulling pencil scribbles (graphite) with a sticky tape repeatedly until a single atom layer of carbon remained. Since then, physicists and material scientists have been thrilled about graphene’s prospects. It is extremely light, yet stronger than any other material, at least at the atomic level. It is also an excellent conductor of electricity and heat. Some of its potential uses include fast charging batteries, energy-free water desalinisation, and light and strong composite materials that could be used in everything from sports to avionics to medical tools. But so far, the main problem in potentially realising these uses and many others is that synthesising graphene is an extremely difficult and expensive process, even at a small scale. Thankfully, that is slowly changing. In a new article published in Nature earlier this week, researchers from Rice University in Houston show details of a new process – flash graphene synthesis – in which carbon-based waste such as food and plastics are turned into flakes of graphene using electrical pulses. Although the end product is not perfect layers of the material, as it needs to be refined and separated, the discovery could prove to be an important step in making graphene commercially viable. It could go a long way: it is the first time graphene has been synthesised from the bottom up, as opposed to extracting it from graphite, as Professors Geim and Novoselov did for weekend kicks back in 2004. The question now is whether flash graphene synthesis can be scaled up successfully. If that becomes a reality, not only could we start seeing graphene being used as a practical everyday solution, it would contribute to the reduction of plastic and food waste in a world that throws out 30-40% of its food production.
Officials from the World Health Organisation are set to meet today to determine whether the coronavirus constitutes a global health emergency. The number of confirmed cases has grown to nearly 8,000 as the virus has spread to all Chinese regions. Some 200 British nationals are reportedly stranded in Wuhan due to delays to a planned evacuation flight organised by the British government. The future of the UK’s High Speed 2 rail project (HS2) will be discussed today in a meeting between the prime minister, the chancellor and the transport secretary. Although a final decision will probably not be taken today, several outlets have reported on the government’s willingness to go ahead with the project despite massive budget overruns. The White House thought to be increasingly nervous about the publication of a book by John Bolton, former US national security advisor. According to The New York Times, Bolton claims in his book that President Trump linked the freezing of military aid for Ukraine to a political favour.
Business and economy
SpaceX successfully launched its fourth batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit yesterday, and completed a successful rocket landing in the middle of the ocean, following days of weather delays for the mission. Starlink is SpaceX’s programme to deploy 12,000 satellites by the mid-2020s to provide global internet coverage. It has deployed 242 so far. New figures published yesterday show 2019 saw the lowest level of vehicle manufacturing in the UK in almost a decade. Factories produced 1.3 million vehicle units last year, down 14.2% on 2018 and the third consecutive year of decline, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturing and Traders. The output is expected to declin further during the cours of this year. Today, the Church of England, whose pension board oversees a £2.8bn retirement fund for its clergy, will launch its own passive index on the London Stock Exchange. The index, developed in collaboration with FTSE Russell, will be aligned with the Paris climate goals and will be particularly selective about the companies it tracks. Companies with public targets aligned to Paris have a higher weighting in the new index, while groups with poor records have much lower weightings or are excluded completely.
Columns of note
Writing for City AM, Digby Jones argues that the construction of HS2 will bring wide benefits to the British economy, especially for people living in the Midlands and the North. A project of this scale must always be subject to rigorous public scrutiny, he says, but argues that the UK government should go ahead with its construction. HS2 has the potential to unleash productivity at a much wider scale across the country, according to Jones. In the Financial Times, Megan Greene argues that if they are serious about their mandates, the Fed and ECB should consider other strategies other than setting explicit inflation targets. Obsession over controlling inflation has lowered benchmark interest rates, while also limiting the ability of the banks to fight supply-side shocks. Other strategies, such as yield curve control, deserve serious consideration according to Greene.
What happened yesterday?
Oil prices have continued to slump as the novel coronavirus has affected demand in Asia. Brent crude and WTI are both down 1.8%.
Meanwhile, stocks have bounced despite fears around the virus’ impact on global trade. Positive results from Apple may have contributed, although investors are still wary ahead of the Fed’s next policy meeting later this week.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 finished up by 0.44% to 419.41, with a gain of 0.16% to 13,345.0 for the German Dax and of 0.57% to 24,164.08 on the FTSE Mibtel.
London stocks also traded higher. The FTSE 100 was up 0.04% at 7,483.57.
What's happening today
Finals Samsung Summerway Capi. Unilever
Interims Best Haynes Rank Renishaw
AGMs Avon Rubber Hollywood Bwl Inspirit Energy Schroder AsiaPacific Fund Unicorn Asset Management
UK Economic Announcements (12:00) BoE Interest Rate Decision
Int. Economic Announcements (07:00) Import Price Index (GER) (08:55) Unemployment Rate (GER) (10:00) Economic Sentiment Indicator (EU) (10:00) Services Confidence (EU) (10:00) Unemployment Rate (EU) (10:00) Business Climate Indicator (EU) (10:00) Industrial Confidence (EU) (10:00) Consumer Confidence (EU) (13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US) (13:30) Personal Consumption Expenditures (US) (13:30) Continuing Claims (US) (13:30) GDP (Preliminary) (US)
Did you know?
The first folding chess board was invented by a chess-playing priest. Playing chess was forbidden so he concealed his chess board by making it look like two books lying together.
House of Commons Oral Questions Transport (including Topical Questions) Business Statement Business Questions to the Leader of the House of Commons - Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg General debate Global Britain Adjournment War Widows' Pension Scheme - Dr Julian Lewis
Westminster Hall Debate Effect of US tariffs on the Scotch whisky industry - David Mundell
House of Lords Oral questions
Debate Recent developments in the field of gene editing, and its status in scientific research around the world - Baroness Bakewell
Scottish Parliament General questions
First Minister questions
Member's Business: Public Works Loan Board Rate
Scottish Government debate: Drugs and Alcohol: Preventing and Reducing Harms