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Alliance Rubber Stretches Limit of RFID and NFC Applications

The rubber band company is working with the University of Sussex to develop elastic material that could not only be stronger than standard rubber, but also transmit data via RF, accommodate RFID or NFC chips, and store sensor data.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 29, 2017

Rubber band company Alliance Rubber Co. reports that it may be on the verge of releasing the first substantial innovation in rubber bands in decades—and it could benefit the radio frequency identification industry. Researchers at Alliance Rubber are developing and testing graphene-infused rubber that could provide a new, versatile material that could accommodate RFID or Near Field Communication (NFC) technologies.

The company says it is testing whether applying graphene to rubber could enable the use of rubber bands to block RFID signals, or to enable them—in the latter case, making a simple rubber band a digital source of information for a product or asset that could be accessed via radio transmissions, or by bar-code scan or simply by changing color. The company has partnered with the University of Sussex to study the use of graphene in rubber, and plans to develop intelligent rubber products during the coming months or years.

Alliance Rubber's Jason Risner
Alliance Rubber, located in Hot Springs, Ariz., is one of the largest providers of rubber bands—the familiar and humble tools used by consumers and businesses alike to hold things together. In recent years, the discovery of graphene has offered a new opportunity to innovate, says Jason Risner, Alliance Rubber's director of business strategy. The company already manufactures 2,200 different products sold throughout 55 countries.

Approximately two years ago, the company gained an interest in a project under way at the University of Sussex, where researchers were mixing graphene into rubber to make it stronger. With the infusion of graphene, Risner explains, an astonishing material resulted that was not only stronger than standard rubber, but had conductive capabilities. That meant sensors could be embedded in the graphene and rubber that would respond to the environment around the band.

Graphene is a carbon material consisting of two-dimensional, atomic-scale hexagon (honeycomb-style) shapes, making it one of the strongest substances ever discovered—reportedly more than 200 times stronger than steel. That strength offers value to rubber bands by making them nearly break-proof. But it also carries electricity better than copper, for instance, and can conduct energy well at room temperature without creating heat. That means it can potentially enable the use of sensor technology and also accomplish data storage. For example, rubber wristbands could sense information such as a wearer's temperature, and the rubber could respond by changing color.

Alliance Rubber is now sponsoring two researchers at the university to further investigate how much graphene would be optimal, and how the material could be used for commercial benefit. How the sensor data could be revealed to users of the rubber bands offers some opportunity for RFID technology use, Risner says.

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