Light-absorbing graphene to power ‘smart wallpaper’ and IoT

29 February 2016
By Jack Loughran
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Moth eyes provided inspiration for the team to bolster graphene's light-absorbing properties

Moth eyes provided inspiration for the team to bolster graphene's light-absorbing properties

Graphene layers than can absorb 90 per cent of the light spectrum could be used to power ‘smart wallpaper’ and the Internet-of-Things (IoT).

Graphene, which is an atom thick layer of carbon, has been lauded for its electrical conductivity properties but can traditionally only absorb 2.3 per cent of the light spectrum.

A team from the University of Surrey have manipulated the material so that it can instead absorb 90 per cent of the spectrum, making it the most light-absorbent material for its weight to date.

Using a technique known as nanotexturing, which involves growing graphene around a textured metallic surface, the researchers were able to form the material into a pattern which localised light into the narrow spaces between the textured surface, drastically enhancing the amount of light it is capable of absorbing.

The team drew inspiration from the eyes of moths that have microscopic patterning that allows them to see in the dimmest conditions.

These work by channelling light towards the middle of the eye while simultaneously eliminating reflections, which would otherwise alert predators of their location.

The same technique was used to fashion graphene into a pattern that would increase its light-absorbance.

The nanometre-thin material will enable future applications such as 'smart wallpaper' that could generate electricity from waste light or heat, and power a host of IoT applications.

"Nature has evolved simple yet powerful adaptations, from which we have taken inspiration in order to answer challenges of future technologies," explained Professor Ravi Silva who worked on the project.

"Solar cells coated with this material would be able to harvest very dim light. Installed indoors, as part of future 'smart wallpaper' or 'smart windows', this material could generate electricity from waste light or heat, powering a numerous array of smart applications.

“New types of sensors and energy harvesters connected through the Internet of Things would also benefit from this type of coating."

He said they plan to incorporate the material into a variety of existing and emerging technologies and searching for industry partners.

A number of new applications for Graphene were recently demonstrated at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

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