Nottingham University scientists have shown how inkjet-printed graphene could be used to 3D print electronic devices.
According to the team from Nottingham’s Center for Additive Manufacturing and School of Physics and Astronomy, one can jet inks – containing tiny flakes of 2D materials such as graphene – to build up and mesh together the different layers of these complex customized structures.
The team has also used quantum mechanical modelling to pinpoint how electrons move through the 2D material layers: This will come in handy when modifying devices in the near future.
2D materials like graphene are usually made by sequentially exfoliating a single layer of carbon atoms, arranged in a flat sheet, which is then used to produce bespoke structures.
But producing layers and combining them to make complex sandwich-like materials has so far proven difficult; this usually requires deposition of the layers one at a time and by hand.
Now Professor Mark Fromhold and his Nottingham team have shown how their scalable inkjet-printed graphene could transform 3D printing.
“Our results could lead to diverse applications for inkjet-printed graphene-polymer composites and a range of other 2D materials,” notes co-author Dr Lyudmila Turyanska.
“The findings could be employed to make a new generation of functional optoelectronic devices; for example, large and efficient solar cells; wearable, flexible electronics that are powered by sunlight or the motion of the wearer; perhaps even printed computers.”
The Nottingham team used a range of characterization techniques – micro-Raman spectroscopy, thermal gravity analysis, a novel 3D orbiSIMS instrument and electrical measurements – to provide detailed structural and functional understanding of inkjet-printed graphene polymers, and the effects of annealing on performance.
They will continue researching into how to better control the deposition of the flakes by using polymers to influence the way they align, and trying different inks with a range of flake sizes.
They are also hoping to develop more sophisticated computer simulations of the materials and the way they work together, in order to mass-manufacture the devices they prototype.
Image and content: Nottingham University