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Ams launches energy-harvesting NFC chip ••• Manchester, BGT Materials scientists print low-cost graphene antenna ••• NXP engineers nominated for European Inventor Award 2015 for NFC work ••• Proxama wins contract from Exterion Media for beacon-based deployment ••• Intergraph acquires Blue Iron Systems Inc.
By Beth Bacheldor

Manchester, BGT Materials Scientists Print Low-Cost Graphene Antenna

A group of scientists have moved graphene—a strong, conductive, single-atom-thick sheet of carbon—a significant step forward toward commercial viability as new next-generation electronic applications.

A graphene laminate dipole antenna printed on paper
Researchers from the University of Manchester and BGT Materials Ltd., a graphene manufacturer in the United Kingdom, have announced that they have printed an RF antenna using compressed graphene ink. The antenna performed well enough to make it practical for use in RFID tags and wireless sensors, according to the researchers. The antenna is flexible and environmentally friendly, and could be cheaply mass-produced, they report. The results appear in the latest issue of Applied Physics Letters, a scientific journal published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP).

The study demonstrates that printable graphene is now ready for commercial use in low-cost radio frequency applications, the scientists report.

"The point is that graphene is no longer just a scientific wonder. It will bring many new applications to our daily life very soon," said Kostya S. Novoselov in a prepared statement. Novoselov, the project's coordinator—who won the Noble Prize for physics in 2010 for "groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene"—is a professor at the University of Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy.

Graphene was first isolated and tested in 2004, according to AIP. One of the first commercial products manufactured from graphene was conductive ink, which can be used to print circuits and other electronic components. Graphene ink is generally low-cost and mechanically flexible—advantages that it has over other types of conductive ink, the researchers note, such as solutions made from metal nanoparticles.

To make the ink, graphene flakes are generally mixed with a solvent, and a binder like ethyl cellulose is sometimes added to help the ink stick. Graphene ink with binders usually conducts electricity better than binder-free ink, but only after the binder material, which is an insulator, is broken down in a high-heat process known as annealing. Annealing, however, limits the types of surfaces onto which graphene ink can be printed because the high temperatures destroy materials like paper or plastic.

The University of Manchester and BGT Materials research team found a way to increase the conductivity of graphene ink without resorting to a binder, by first printing and drying the ink, and then compressing it with a roller, similar to the way in which new pavement is compressed using a road roller. The resulting "graphene laminate" was almost two times more conductive than previous graphene ink made with a binder, the researchers say, and that enabled efficient RF radiation.

The group then tested the compressed graphene laminate by printing a graphene antenna onto a piece of paper. According to the researchers, the antenna measured approximately 14 centimeters (0.6 inch) long and 3.5 millimeters (0.1 inch) across, and radiated RF power effectively.

Printing electronics onto cheap, flexible materials like paper and plastic—instead of more expensive, traditional materials like aluminum and copper—could make RFID tags and other wireless technologies more common, the researchers indicate. The University of Manchester and BGT Materials Limited team say they have plans to further develop graphene-based RFID tags, as well as sensors and wearable electronics.

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