Science and Guitar-Playing, in Perfect Harmony!
Graphene strikes a chord
Maxime Déniel is an engineer in charge of the graphene production process at Carbon Waters. He has already had an impressive career in chemistry and process engineering.
A true fan of science from a very young age, Déniel is also a guitarist in his spare time with a pop rock group. Here is our “unplugged” interview with this music-loving scientist.
It sounds like you’ve been a science fan from a very young age
Clearly! I’ve always been excited about science, and especially chemistry. After I got my engineering degree at Ensiacet Toulouse in 2013, I began a thesis at the Atomic Energy Commission Grenoble that was codirected by the Albi School of Mines.
My research was in thermochemical treatment of biomass and food waste to produce bio-oils. After that, I was able to join the Epsilon company as a process engineer in late 2016.
That first experience led you to work at Solvay.
I was assigned to that client for three years as an R&D engineer on the microchemistry and materials team. I worked on optimization of catalyzed reactions in polyphasic environments (gas-liquid, gas-liquid-solid).
The miniaturization of processes allows industrialists to better understand the reactions by placing themselves in favorable conditions for studying them, and especially to limit the risks, because we were working on exothermal reactions that often involved highly sensitive chemical species under high-temperature and high-pressure conditions.
After that mission, I rejoined the research department at Epsilon in 2020, where I worked in areas involving industrial processes, particularly in the nuclear industry.
What made you decide to join Carbon Waters?
It’s a startup that I had been following closely thanks to a friend. Honestly, I was really missing lab work, I had strayed from my first love. I wanted to be back in that environment, to get closer to chemistry “in the field.”
Working on graphene, with all its technological promise in terms of applications, is so exciting. It’s applied chemistry, with multiple uses and clients.
Is graphene the material of the future?
Absolutely. New publications come out every week about graphene and its areas of application. Graphene is used in sports, tested on clothing and in space applications, it’s known for its anticorrosion qualities, its thermal properties, its electrical conductivity, and its strong mechanical resistance.
We just have to optimize its manufacturing process to scale up to an industrial level. And that’s exactly my role at Carbon Waters.
Specifically, what are your tasks at Carbon Waters?
I work in the lab every day to achieve a significant qualitative increase in production of our “Graphene Water” to reach four to five tons per year by 2023.
I process raw materials to obtain an optimized-quality graphene dispersion that is reproducible. Optimization of the production parameters is done mainly in a glove box, in a controlled atmosphere. This specific tool confines the space so we can handle products that are sensitive to oxidation and humidity.
These experiments give me the essential elements for designing the pilot reactor, that will take production out of the glove box and automate most of it.
It seems as though your whole life is graphene.
Almost! All week long, I “live” graphene, but on the weekend, I spend a good portion of my free time playing guitar. In fact, I recently joined a rock group. My father is a guitarist too and I caught the bug when I was 14.
For me Alex Turner, the singer for the Arctic Monkeys and the Last Shadow Puppets, is still THE guy in terms of song-writing!
But, heart to heart, I’m in tune with graphene, even when I play!