What's a graphene display and why it's going to be in flexible smart devices from the future
Yesterday, a Chinese manufacturer whose name escapes us turned a few heads by showing a working and completely flexible Android smartphone which uses a graphene screen.The invention is shaped like a bracelet and has no problems wrapping itself around a lady's hand, for example. This glimpse of the feature reminded us that leading smartphone makers already have flexible displays in mass production, but they still choose to incorporate them in devices that are absolutely flat and un-bendable. It also sparked our interest in the never seen in use before piece of technology that is the graphene display.
Graphene is a layer of pure carbon. At just one atom thick, graphene is the thinnest, lightest, strongest, most transparent, and most heat and electricity-conductive material known to scientists. The ultimate super-material which, mixed with traditional metals and plastic, could shape the future of, quite literally, everything! As carbon is the chemical basis for all known life on Earth and found in abundance, graphene is envisioned by futurologists as an ecological, sustainable solution for a theoretically limitless number of applications.
What's a graphene display?
This particular display, and possibly others that followed it – like the one on the Chinese smartphone we saw yesterday – works on the principle of active matrix electrophoretic. It uses an electric field to output images via re-arranging particles suspended in a solution. The layer of emulsion-processed graphene electrode is deposited onto a flexible plastic panel and etched with electric circuits. There's no intrinsic requirement for using glass sheets, which means graphene displays won't be subjected to the kind of impact damage sustained by glass-covered screens.
Moreover, this sort of display should be easier to produce than flexible OLED screens, because its backplane – the electrical layer which supplies power for re-arranging display particles – can be produced using a low-temperature process (at below 100° C / 212° F), which minimizes yield risk and makes the production less resource-intensive.However, smartphone graphene displays will likely use elements from LCD and OLED technology to provide the kind of colors and refresh rates needed for an adequate user experience. This will inevitably complicate production somewhat.
About five months later, researchers from the University of Manchester and University of Sheffield introduced a semi-transparent, graphene-based LED screen, which is the basis for the flexible graphene displays that will end up in future mobile devices. Being only 10 to 40 atoms thick, it emits light across its entire surface without the need for a backlight.