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Graphene on Glass
July 4, 2014   
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Glass does not conduct electricity, but sometimes needs to be used as a conductor—for example in heated car windows or in the display of a tablet. Scientists from the Institute of Electronic Materials Technology (ITME) in Warsaw have come up with a way of applying graphene—a form of carbon just one atom thick—to make glass conduct electricity.

The scientists have developed a unique method for coating surfaces including flexible plastics with graphene, which is billed as the wonder material of the 21st century with the potential to revolutionize electronics. For now, the technology has attracted the interest of military equipment experts. In the future, thanks to it, flat screen TVs that can be rolled up and put in a pocket could become reality.

The Warsaw scientists produce graphene in a special oven. The material—which features a single layer of carbon atoms that form a flat, practically two-dimensional grid with hexagonal meshes and a honeycomb structure—is deposited on the surface of copper film. Subsequently the graphene is transferred onto another material and then coated onto glass. The result is extraordinary—the glass is still transparent, but at the same time it is capable of conducting electricity.

“This combination is desirable in popular everyday use items such as heated car windows, flat TV screens and smartphone touchscreens,” says Grzegorz Gawlik, Ph.D., head of the ITME team working on this technology.

The project involves optical devices equipped with lenses and windows that should maintain transparency in all weather conditions despite dewing or icing. For the production of heated car windows glass with embedded wires is typically used. It is also possible to place conductive paths onto the surface of the glass. However, the wires are always visible, as a result of which the glass becomes less transparent. Graphene, on the other hand, lets through around 98 percent of light across the useful range of the visible light spectrum. It is also optically uniform over the entire surface, which is a huge advantage in optics. The graphene layer on the glass cannot be seen in practice. And there are no wires or strips obstructing the view.

There are also methods for applying a conductive layer onto a transparent substrate. Oxide materials, typically indium tin oxide (ITO), are usually used for this purpose. But they have their drawbacks, including the costly process of production and the fact that indium is a metal that rarely occurs in nature.

Moreover, oxide layers cannot be used to coat flexible plastic surfaces because they break easily. Graphene, meanwhile, is highly flexible and can be used in displays such as roll-up flat screen TVs or phones. For now, such displays are not available on the market.

For the time being, the Warsaw team only produces small samples of graphene-coated glass—not exceeding a few square centimeters in size. Soon they plan to launch a new device that will make it possible to produce much bigger items.

The technology has attracted the interest of defense company Bumar PCO, which plans to use the technology in its products. Moreover, the Institute of Electronic Materials Technology has received support from the government-run Industrial Development Agency (ARP) and has partnered with Nano Carbon Sp. z o.o., a hi-tech company set up by the agency that focuses on innovative graphene-related technologies and looks for markets for Polish graphene-based products.
Tomasz Rybicki
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