Graphene has been building quite a reputation for itself in flexible displays. Among the ways graphene has been used in this field is as an alternative to the relatively scarce indium tin oxide (ITO), a transparent conductor that controls display pixels. Graphene has also been used in a display’s pixel electronics, or backplane, where a solution-processed graphene is used as an electrode.
Now researchers at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, have demonstrated that an ordinary sheet of paper that is sandwiched between two films of multilayer graphene can act as a rudimentary flexible electronic display.
In an interview with Nature Photonics, the corresponding author, Coskun Kocabas, says that this system could serve as a framework for turning ordinary printing paper into an optoelectronic display.
We would like to fabricate a display device that can reconfigure the displayed information electronically on a sheet of printing paper. Several technologies based on electrophoretic motion of particles, thermochromic dyes and electrowetting of liquids have been developed to realize electronic paper, or e-paper, which has great potential for consumer electronics. Contrasting with the primary aim of e-paper, these technologies, however, are not compatible with conventional cellulose-based printing papers.
The researchers described their device in the journal ACS Photonics. It operates by applying a bias voltage to the graphene to trigger an intercalation of ions so that the optical absorption of the graphene layers is altered. That turns them from transparent to dark and back again. (Intercalation is the reversible inclusion of a molecule or ions between two other molecules in multilayered structures or compounds.)
In the experiments, the display’s transition to transparent takes a bit of time— about 4 seconds; reverting to its darker form takes under half a second. While this may be suitable for signs that don’t need to change their images that often, the lapse is still too long for display applications that require quick refresh times.
The multilayer graphene was produced through chemical vapor deposition in which the graphene is grown on a metal surface inside a furnace. After it’s removed from the furnace, the metal is etched away, leaving a thin film of graphene on the surface of the water in which the etching occurs. Then the paper is simply submersed into the liquid, which transfers the thin film of graphene onto the paper.
While the initial experiments showed that there were some issues with oxidation of the doped graphene layers, the researchers believe that this hiccup can be overcome with the addition of a simple polymer coating.
In future research, Kocabas and his colleagues are planning to make a fully functional sheet of e-paper with pixels and an integrated driving circuit. They would like to see the process they have developed adapted into a roll-to-roll-compatible manufacturing process.