The lab of Rice chemist James Tour lab has created thin films that could revolutionize touch-screen displays, solar panels and LED lighting. The research was reported in the online edition of ACS Nano.
Flexible, see-through video screens may be the "killer app" that finally puts graphene -- the highly touted single-atom-thick form of carbon -- into the commercial spotlight once and for all, Tour said. Combined with other flexible, transparent electronic components being developed at Rice and elsewhere, the breakthrough could lead to computers that wrap around the wrist and solar cells that wrap around just about anything.
The lab's hybrid graphene film is a strong candidate to replace indium tin oxide (ITO), a commercial product widely used as a transparent, conductive coating. It's the essential element in virtually all flat-panel displays, including touch screens on smart phones and iPads, and is part of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) and solar cells.
ITO works well in all of these applications, but has several disadvantages. The element indium is increasingly rare and expensive. It's also brittle, which heightens the risk of a screen cracking when a smart phone is dropped and further rules ITO out as the basis for flexible displays.
The Tour Lab's thin film combines a single-layer sheet of highly conductive graphene with a fine grid of metal nanowire. The researchers claim the material easily outperforms ITO and other competing materials, with better transparency and lower resistance to electric current.
"Many people are working on ITO replacements, especially as it relates to flexible substrates," said Tour, Rice's T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science. "Other labs have looked at using pure graphene. It might work theoretically, but when you put it on a substrate, it doesn't have high enough conductivity at a high enough transparency. It has to be assisted in some way."
Conversely, said postdoctoral researcher Yu Zhu, lead author of the new paper, fine metal meshes show good conductivity, but gaps in the nanowires to keep them transparent make them unsuitable as stand-alone components in conductive electrodes.
But combining the materials works superbly, Zhu said. The metal grid strengthens the graphene, and the graphene fills all the empty spaces between the grid. The researchers found a grid of five-micron nanowires made of inexpensive, lightweight aluminum did not detract from the material's transparency.
"Five-micron grid lines are about a 10th the size of a human hair, and a human hair is hard to see," Tour said.
Tour said metal grids could be easily produced on a flexible substrate via standard techniques, including roll-to-roll and ink-jet printing. Techniques for making large sheets of graphene are also improving rapidly, he said; commercial labs have already developed a roll-to-roll graphene production technique.
"This material is ready to scale right now," he said.
The flexibility is almost a bonus, Zhu said, due to the potential savings of using carbon and aluminum instead of expensive ITO. "Right now, ITO is the only commercial electrode we have, but it's brittle," he said. "Our transparent electrode has better conductivity than ITO and it's flexible. I think flexible electronics will benefit a lot."
In tests, he found the hybrid film's conductivity decreases by 20 to 30 percent with the initial 50 bends, but after that, the material stabilizes. "There were no significant variations up to 500 bending cycles," Zhu said. More rigorous bending test will be left to commercial users, he said.
"I don't know how many times a person would roll up a computer," Tour added. "Maybe 1,000 times? Ten thousand times? It's hard to see how it would wear out in the lifetime you would normally keep a device."
The film also proved environmentally stable. When the research paper was submitted in late 2010, test films had been exposed to the environment in the lab for six months without deterioration. After a year, they remain so.
"Now that we know it works fine on flexible substrates, this brings the efficacy of graphene a step up to its potential utility," Tour said.
Rice graduate students Zhengzong Sun and Zheng Yan and former postdoctoral researcher Zhong Jin are co-authors of the paper.
The Office of Naval Research Graphene MURI program, the Air Force Research Laboratory through the University Technology Corporation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Lockheed Martin Corp./LANCER IV program supported the research.
Read the abstract at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nn201696g
View a high-definition video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-P6_BMsHSw
Download high-resolution photos athttp://www.media.rice.edu/images/media/NEWSRELS/0801_team.jpg
A hybrid material that combines a fine aluminum mesh with a single-atom-thick layer of graphene outperforms materials common to current touch screens and solar cells. The transparent, flexible electrodes were developed in the lab of Rice University chemist James Tour. (Credit: Yu Zhu/Rice University)
An electron microscope image of a hybrid electrode developed at Rice University shows solid connections after 500 bends. The transparent material combines single-atom-thick sheets of graphene and a fine mesh of aluminum nanowire on a flexible substrate. (Credit: Tour Lab/Rice University)
Located on a 285-acre forested campus in Houston, Texas, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation's top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is known for its "unconventional wisdom." With 3,485 undergraduates and 2,275 graduate students, Rice's undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is less than 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 4 for "best value" among private universities by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. To read "What they're saying about Rice," go to http://futureowls.rice.edu/images/futureowls/Rice_Brag_Sheet.pdf
David Ruth | EurekAlert!
Did you know that the wrapping of Easter eggs benefits from specialty light sources?
13.04.2017 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH
To e-, or not to e-, the question for the exotic 'Si-III' phase of silicon
05.04.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
24.04.2017 | Life Sciences
24.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
24.04.2017 | Machine Engineering