Three years ago, we started to highlight research that seemed to indicate that graphene had a real commercial opportunity in replacing indium tin oxide (ITO) for touch screen displays.
Just earlier this month, we saw that Plastic Logic, with assistance from the Cambridge Graphene Center located at the University of Cambridge, had developed the world’s first graphene-based flexible display.
So, over the past three years, we’ve seen steady development culminating in a real device being produced. As a result, it comes with a bit of surprise that researchers at the University of Surrey and AMBER, the materials science center based at Trinity College Dublin, are just now letting us know that graphene offers a real alternative to ITO in flexible low-cost touchscreen displays.
Don't be confused. While this may seem like old news, the researchers make their claim based on the method they have developed for producing graphene-treated silver nanowires, which could significantly reduce production costs for nanowire-based displays.
"Our work has cut the amount of expensive nanowires required to build such touchscreens by more than fifty times as well as simplifying the production process,” said Izabela Jurewicz, a researcher at the University of Surrey, in a press release. “We achieved this using graphene, a material that can conduct electricity and interpret touch commands whilst still being transparent."
In research published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the researchers were able to overcome the typical cost issues associated with multilayer networks of silver nanowires by modifying the electrical properties of the nanowire network through local deposition of conducting graphene platelets.
The key to the solution-based process was the use of pristine graphene instead of graphene oxide. Since the graphene was free of oxygen functional groups, it was electrically conducting without any further chemical treatment. The result was a more than 50-fold reduction in the number of nanowires needed to produce viable transparent electrodes.
The result of this reduction in the number of nanowires led to significant savings in production costs.
"This is a real alternative to ITO displays and could replace existing touchscreen technologies in electronic devices,” said Jonathan Coleman of AMBER in a press release. “Even though this material is cheaper and easier to produce, it does not compromise on performance."
Needless to say, industry has already taken note. Coleman added: "We are currently working with industrial partners to implement this research into future devices and it is clear that the benefits will soon be felt by manufacturers and consumers alike."
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.