T-shirts containing computers, interactive mirrors and windows, and more efficient solar panels: these are all things that could be coming soon thanks to a newly developed graphene-based material that is the most transparent, lightweight and flexible material ever made for conducting electricity.
A team of scientists at the Centre for Graphene Science at the University of Exeter invented the new material that they're calling GraphExeter to replace indium tin oxide (ITO) in electronics. ITO is great at conducting electricity but indium is not only expensive, but becoming increasingly rare. It's predicted that indium supplies will run out by 2017, meaning it's time we found another option. The team at Exeter not only found a good replacement, they found a better one.
Graphene has become the miracle material of late. Researchers have found that it could be used in things like self-cooling electronics and even better water filters. Graphene on its own is very thin (just one atom thick!), flexible and strong, but its sheet resistance has limited its conductivity. The Exeter team solved this by sandwiching a layer of ferric chloride in between two sheets of graphene. This boosted its conductivity without giving up flexibility or transparency, making it an ideal material for wearable electronics, like clothing containing computers, phones and MP3 players.
GraphExeter could also have some great clean tech applications, too. Because it is transparent over a wide spectrum of light, it could boost solar panel efficiency by 30 percent.
The team at Exeter is now developing a spray-on version of the material that could be applied directly to mirrors, windows, fabric, and, yes, solar panels.