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Graphene - Miracle material or another asbestos?

By Tim Hayward
Technical Claims Manager

What is Graphene? Graphene remains is in its early infancy, it was only isolated in a laboratory a decade ago. Its pure carbon sheets are one atom thick, stronger than steel and more conductive than copper. With the potential for widespread application within a number of industries,it has been hailed as a“miracle material”...

The risks

A recent expert study has suggested graphene might have dangerous side effects, raising obvious concerns amongst the insurance industry.

Researchers have discovered that graphene oxide, created when the material is exposed to air, moves easily through bodies of water. They are concerned with the ease in which graphene could find its way into the human body.

A recent study at Brown University (USA) found that graphene’s jagged edges can easily pierce cell membranes in human lung, skin and immune cells, allowing it to enter cells and disrupt their functions. The longer-term effects of graphene on the human body are currently unknown.

The similarities to the widespread historic use of asbestos will not be lost on many. 

Asbestos exposure has been responsible for hundreds of deaths, from absestos cancer. It was increasingly used in construction in the post World War II period, with usage peaking in the 1970s. Usage declined in the 1980s and 1990s as the effects of asbestos became apparent.

A report from December 2013, published in The Actuary, estimated the future cost to the UK insurance industry from asbestos-related claims at between £4bn and £10bn*.

Concluding thoughts

Therefore, for all the potential advancements graphene could bring, we urge caution. To avoid the human and financial repercussions of another asbestos, we need to have a thorough understanding of graphene's properties.

* Estimated cost based on 80,000 to 200,000 claims over the next 30 years

Your contact

Your contact

Tim Hayward

Tim Hayward

Casualty & Property Claims Manager