Researchers from the University of Exeter have pioneered an innovative new way to use graphene to make flexible screens more effective and efficient.
By using GraphExeter – a material adapted from graphene to be more transparent, lightweight and flexible for conducting electricity through an extra layer of ferric chloride – the team have increased the brightness of flexible lights by up to almost 50 per cent.
The research has also shown that using GraphExeter makes the lights 30 per cent more efficient than existing examples of flexible lighting, which are based on state-of-the-art commercial polymers.
The research team believe the technology could help significantly improve the viability of the next generation of flexible screens for smartphones or wearable electronic devices such as clothing containing computers or MP3 players.
“This exciting development shows there is a bright future for the use of GraphExeter in transforming flexible lighting on a mass scale, and could help revolutionise the electronics industry,” said one of the lead researchers, University of Exeter physicist Dr Saverio Russo.
“Not only are lights that use GraphExeter much brighter, they are also far more resilient to repeated flexing, which makes ‘bendy’ screens much more feasible for day to day goods such as mobile phones.”
Currently, flexible screens are still in their infancy and although they are useable, the size of the screens are limited by the materials used for mass production, which can cause a visible gradient of brightness as the size of screen increases.
By substituting graphene for GraphExeter, the team of researchers were able to create a lit screen that showed a far greater and consistent light than has previously been possible. Furthermore, the screens were more resilient to continued flexing, meaning that they have a longer shelf-life before needing to be replaced.
Dr Monica Craciun, also from the University of Exeter added: “The next step will be to embed these ultra-flexible GraphExeter lights on textile fibres and pioneer ground-breaking applications in health care light therapy.”
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. The race has been on for scientists and engineers to adapt graphene for flexible electronics. This has been a challenge because of its sheet resistance, graphene dissipates large amounts of energy.
In 2012 the teams of Dr Craciun and Profesor Russo, from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Graphene Science, discovered that sandwiched molecules of ferric chloride between two graphene layers make a whole new system that is more than a thousand times a better conductor of electricity than graphene and by far the best known transparent material able to conduct electricity. The same team have now discovered that GraphExeter is also more stable than many transparent conductors commonly used by, for example, the display industry.
GraphExeter LED video
A key strength of the Southwest, the SETsquared Partnership of the Universities of Bristol, Bath, Surrey and Southampton, has been joined by the University of Exeter.
SETsquared is one of the UK’s most successful and long-running university-enterprise collaborations and runs innovation and enterprise centres across the region, developing routes to market for academic research, raising investment and creating jobs through its support for high-tech, high-growth early stage companies – both university spin-outs and companies in the wider community. Over the last five years the Partnership has supported around 650 companies, helped raise more than £150m in capital and created over 1,000 new jobs.
Exeter already has solid links with Bristol and Bath. Its activity in climate change, functional materials, systems biology and translational medicine adds strength to the Partnership’s research base. Exeter also has strong networks and support facilities for high-tech companies and will be a proactive partner in SETsquared’s incubation and business-creation agenda.
The SETsquared Partnership has nearly 7,500 academics at the five universities, which are jointly responsible for nearly nine per cent of the UK’s research budget.
“In these difficult times, the contribution universities make to the economy is key. The SETsquared Partnership has been very effective and expanding our membership will strengthen the role we can play. Exeter is an outstanding research-based university and is strongly engaged with the business community. It is an excellent fit with SETsquared’s existing members,” said Neil Bradshaw, Director of Enterprise at the University of Bristol and a member of the SETsquared Management Group.
“It is excellent news that the University of Exeter has now decided to become a member. It produces outstanding research and is strongly engaged with its regional business community,” said Ron Humphreys, Director of Bath Ventures. “We look forward to working together to bring further beneficial impact to the economy and wider society through our business support facilities and our combined research portfolio.”