The layers of graphene in the flexible sheets are only one atom thick.
The layers of graphene in the flexible sheets are only one atom thick. University of Surrey

'Smart wallpaper' could power future homes

BRITISH scientists have created super-thin flexible graphene sheets, which they believe could be used to create 'smart wallpaper' capable of generating electricity from the smallest amounts of light and heat.

Researchers working at the University of Surrey's Advanced Technology institute (ATI) used a technique called nanotexturing to create the sheets, which involves growing graphene around a textured metallic surface.

The team took inspiration for the design of the sheets from the natural world, mimicking the unique structure of moths' eyes in the construction of the material.

Professor Ravi Silva, head of the ATI, explained: "Moths' eyes have microscopic patterning that allows them to see in the dimmest conditions. These work by channelling light towards the middle of the eye, with the added benefit of eliminating reflections, which would otherwise alert predators of their location."

Graphene is known for its high electrical conductivity and strength, but is traditionally inefficient at light absorption. Typically, a graphene sheet would only absorb around two to three per cent of the light that hits it.

However, by patterning graphene in a similar way to moths' eyes, they boosted its absorbency by 90 per cent, creating the most light-absorbent material for its weight that has ever been created.

The technology is still in the early stages, but the team have big ambitions for the future. They see these sheets being embedded in wallpaper and window panes, absorbing waste light and heat from inside and outside the home and converting it to electricity, which could then be used for a number of applications.

They also believe a number of 'Internet of Things' devices could be coated in these sheets, meaning they would not need to be constantly recharged or connected to the mains.

The next step for the team is to start incorporating their material in different existing technologies. They are currently looking for industry partners to help take their creation forward.


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