Transparent graphene-based material could revolutionize wearable electronics, solar panels

April 28, 2012

To make GraphExeter, just sandwich molecules of ferric chloride between two layers of graphene (credit: I. Khrapach, et al./Advanced Materials)

GraphExeter, the most transparent, lightweight and flexible material ever for conducting electricity, has been invented by a team from the University of Exeter.

It could revolutionize the creation of wearable electronic devices, such as clothing containing computers, phones, and MP3 players, and smart mirrors or windows, adding computerized interactive features. Since this material is also transparent over a wide light spectrum, it could enhance by more than 30% the efficiency of solar panels.

Adapted from graphene, GraphExeter is much more flexible than indium tin oxide (ITO), the main conductive material currently used in electronics. ITO is becoming increasingly expensive and is a finite resource, expected to run out in 2017.

At just one-atom-thick, graphene is the thinnest substance capable of conducting electricity. It is very flexible and is one of the strongest known materials. But using it for flexible electronics has been a challenge because of its sheet resistance, which limits its conductivity.

So the Exeter team sandwiched molecules of ferric chloride (combining iron and chlorine atoms) between two layers of graphene. Ferric chloride enhances the electrical conductivity of graphene without affecting the material’s transparency.

Spray-on conductors 

The material was produced by a team from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Graphene Science. The research team is now developing a spray-on version of GraphExeter, which could be applied straight onto fabrics, mirrors and windows.

“GraphExeter could revolutionise the electronics industry. It outperforms any other carbon-based transparent conductor used in electronics and could be used for a range of applications, from solar panels to ‘smart’ teeshirts,” said lead researcher Dr. Monica Craciun an University of Exeter, an engineer in the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences.

Ref.: Ivan Khrapach, et al., Novel Highly Conductive and Transparent Graphene-Based Conductors, Advanced Materials, 2012; DOI:10.1002/adma.201200489