New IoT breakthrough could finally usher in widespread graphene sensors

8 Jan 2018

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When it comes to finally finding a real-world application for graphene, the university of its origin has an answer: humidity sensors.

When we think of uses for an atom-thick layer of super-conductive material graphene, our first thoughts drift to foldable TV sets and next-generation wearable devices with immense power. However, the reality is that there are much smaller, simpler and more beneficial uses out there.

That’s what appears to be in store with a new breakthrough achieved by a team of researchers from the University of Manchester – where graphene was first developed – which has found a way to make super-cheap humidity sensors connected to the cloud using graphene.

In a paper published to Scientific Reports, the team revealed a design that layers a variant of graphene, known as graphene oxide, to create flexible heterostructure humidity sensors for remote sensing.

What makes this method so substantial is that it allows for printing to be carried out, layer by layer, for scalable and mass production at a very low cost. This makes it the first example of the printable technology where several 2D materials come together to create a functional device immediately suitable for industrial applications.

On top of that, the device requires no battery source as it harvests power from the receiver, making it more than ideal for the internet of things (IoT) space, where minimal maintenance and passive readings are essential for tasks in smart cities.

Everything’s coming up graphene

The developed technique has the potential to simplify how information is gathered through its wireless system, the team said. It isn’t limited to a particular wireless network and has the ability to be compatible with Wi-Fi and 5G.

“The excitement does not end with this new application here, but leads to the future possibilities of integrations of this technique with other 2D materials to open up a new horizon of wireless sensing applications,” said the lead author of the paper, Dr Zhirun Hu.

Elsewhere in the field of graphene, we recently heard how graphene oxide is being used to develop ‘plant tattoo sensors’, which can be used to monitor their water levels remotely across vast farms.

“With a tool like this, we can begin to breed plants that are more efficient in using water,” said Patrick Schnable, who led the research. “That’s exciting. We couldn’t do this before. But, once we can measure something, we can begin to understand it.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic