The company, with about 120 employees, makes sensors that are used to measure magnetic fields. Attracted by the Chips Act, which provides subsidies to semiconductor makers, it had considered setting up production in the United States. In the end, though, Dr Thomas chose to stick to Britain and establish a domestic manufacturing business.
“Graphene was isolated and invented here in the UK,” he said. “Are we just going to let all of the value go somewhere else?”
But securing enough electricity has not been easy.
After months of searching for a site that would come with the power the company needed, Dr Thomas said, he settled on a warehouse 16km from the lab that would need power upgrades. Rather than wait for an upgrade arranged by the local council, the company moved ahead by paying a grid operator to install a connection to the main grid.
That solution will allow work to get started sooner but carry costs coming to £1 million, including the price of upgrades to the first lab, the company said. Paragraf expects to have initial production under way by the second half of 2024, about 1½ years after getting the site.
In November, the government announced measures to speed up planning approval for major projects and impede Nimbyism. The moves will, among other things, give communities financial benefits for approving grid infrastructure projects in their area and shake up the first-come-first-served queue for grid connections to remove stalled projects.
The plans have been welcomed by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which advises the government. Many of the reforms are plucked from the commission’s own recommendations, but the group wants the government to go further in compensating people when important projects such as housing developments or electricity transmission facilities are built nearby.
The country needs to overcome a “desire to maintain a chocolate box image of Britain, which is nice for tourists coming in and looking at the quaint old villages”, said NIC chair John Armitt. “There has got to be more to Britain in the future than that.”
The inability to get major projects built – such as the government’s decision in October to cut a key part of a planned high-speed rail line, citing delays and overspending – affects “the view of investors as to whether or not the UK is a worthwhile place to come”, Mr Armitt said.
Also, Britain needs more investment: The NIC estimates at least £70 billion a year in the 2030s, an increase from an average of about £55 billion a year over the past decade.