Written by Jonny Williamson
At the moment, the vast majority of touchscreen displays and screens found in electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets, LED TVs and LCD displays, work because of a thin coating of indium tin oxide (ITO). Being highly electrically conducive, optically transparent and capable of being extracted in a very thin film, it’s easy to see why ITO is so highly valued.
However, with such a huge increase in demand, the supply of ITO, especially indium, is becoming increasingly scarce; analysts suggest that the world’s supply of indium could run dry as early as 2020, leading to substantial price rises. Layers of ITO are also fragile and easily cracked, making the material inappropriate for flexible displays.
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Scientists and engineers from across the globe have been searching for a potential alternative to ITO, with graphene currently the biggest contender. Graphene is the thinnest substance capable of conducting electricity at just one atom thick, coupled with being extremely flexible and one of the strongest currently known materials.
The difficulty of using graphene for flexible electronics is its sheet resistance – the measure of resistance of thin films, which limits the materials conductivity. To solve this problem the team from the UK-based University sandwiched molecules of ferric chloride between two layers of graphene, which enhances the materials electrical conductivity without affecting the transparency.
Lead researcher and engineer at the University, Dr. Monica Cracium, commented:
“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 T-shirts. We are very excited about the potential of this material and look forward to seeing where it can take the electronics industry in the future.”
GraphExeter could change the way many electronic devices are manufactured, including new flexible touchscreens for existing devices, as well as integrating electronics into materials to create new 'smart' products, such as fabrics, windows and mirrors.
The team is now in the process of developing a spray-on version of GraphExeter, capable of being sprayed directly onto fabrics, mirrors and windows.