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Graphene to Drive Innovation in Next-Gen Displays - Possibilities range from display backplanes to touch layers
AUG 15, 2016 17:26 PM
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Graphene to Drive Innovation in Next-Gen Displays

Possibilities range from display backplanes to touch layers

By Roni Peleg

Graphene is an emerging material with the potential to revolutionize whole industries. It could someday change the way electronic components are made, create batteries that charge in minutes and last longer, improve computing speed and performance, bring about advances in solar cells and much more. Researchers and companies alike are working tirelessly to harness graphene’s incredible attributes to make real-world applications, and the race seems hotter than ever.

So what exactly is graphene? It is a material made of a single layer of carbon atoms, bonded together in a repeating pattern of hexagons. It could be viewed as a single layer of graphite (which is used, among others things, in pencil tips), but graphene is a remarkable substance on its own - with an overwhelming collection of incredible properties which repeatedly earn it the title “wonder material”.


It is the thinnest material known at one atom thick, and also extremely strong - about 200 times stronger than steel. In addition, graphene is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity and has fascinating light absorption abilities. In fact, electrons move through graphene incredibly fast and begin to exhibit behaviors as if they were massless, mimicking the physics that governs particles at very small scales. This interaction inside a solid seems to be unique to graphene. Graphene is also quite transparent and flexible, which is hoped to someday enable quite futuristic applications.

The promise of graphene has spurred governments and large corporations to launch exciting graphene R&D projects, and invest heavily in initiatives that aim to bring it to commercial use. A prominent example is the Graphene Flagship, a European project initiated in January 2013 with a $1 billion 10-year research program with aims to focus on developing graphene applications in the computing, batteries and sensor markets. Graphene was first isolated and studied at the University of Manchester in the UK. This university is still one of the world's leaders in graphene research, and the UK is attempting to establish a graphene development hub (a Graphene Valley of sorts) in the area. The UK government already committed £356 million (over $500 million) in the past few years towards that goal, with several projects including the £61-million National Graphene Institute (NGI) that was inaugurated in 2015.

Given graphene’s conductivity, flexibility and transparency, displays are a natural choice of path for graphene use. The three main focuses are graphene-based conductive wires for transparent touch panels, display backplanes and transparent electrodes for OLEDs. Graphene can also be used to produce OLED encapsulation, quantum dots and laser diodes.

One of the first applications suggested for graphene use was transparent conductive wires for touch screens, and interesting developments have been made in that area. Graphene is a great conductor and highly conductive – and also strong and flexible, which makes it a good choice to replace the fragile and expensive ITO currently used. Currently it seems that other ITO alternatives like silver nanowires are gaining traction, but graphene is still touted as a viable possibility and several companies in China are initiating production.

All displays use transparent electrodes, and graphene, with its high conductivity and transparency has exciting potential for this application. UK-based OTFT pioneer FlexEnable started researching graphene for flexible displays in 2013, in collaboration with Cambridge University's Graphene Centre. In September 2014 the first prototype device was demonstrated – an E Ink display that uses graphene as a transparent electrode. This research continues and FlexEnable aims to apply the same technology for other display platforms including organic LCDs and OLEDs.

Another possible application for graphene is display backplanes. Organic TFTs are being intensively researched by many companies as the need for cheap, low-temperature processed and flexible electronics is high – mainly for flexible OLED displays. Graphene (and additional 2D materials) has the potential to create a step change in flexible transistor performance.

Graphene can also be incorporated in additional applications like quantum dots, OLED encapsulation and more, and it seems that graphene’s potential is so extensive that it should appear on the radar of any display professional. 

Roni Peleg serves as vice-chair of marketing at SID and is also the senior editor of Graphene-info and OLED-Info, two international publications with over 100,000 readers. These hubs are an open source of knowledge for any industry professional, in addition to offering various services. Roni is an experienced content and copy editor, with years of technical experience in displays and nanotechnology. 

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