Ultrathin spray-applied 5G antennas may benefit wearables, IoT

December 08, 2020 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Ultrathin spray-applied 5G antennas may benefit wearables, IoT
A team of Drexel University researchers has fabricated and tested a series of ultrathin, flexible spray-applied MXene antennas that are a fraction of the weight and thickness of copper antennas.

The ultra-thin MXene antennas can be can be sprayed into place but are also robust enough to provide a strong signal at bandwidths that will be used by 5G mobile devices. The MXene antennas, which have been in development at Drexel for just over two years, are already performing nearly as well as the copper antennas found in most mobile devices on the market today, but with the benefit of being just a fraction of their thickness and weight.

“This combination of communications performance with extreme thinness, flexibility and durability sets a new standard for antenna technology,” said Yury Gogotsi, PhD, Distinguished University and Bach professor of Materials Science and Engineering in Drexel’s College of Engineering, who is the lead author of a paper on the MXene antennas recently published in the journal Advanced Materials. “While copper antennas have been the best in terms of performance for quite some time, their physical limitations have prevented connected and mobile technology from making the big leaps forward that many have predicted. Due to their unique set of characteristics MXene antennas could play an enabling role in the development of IoT technology.”

Beyond reaching performance capabilities, antennas for devices of the future must also be able to work well in a variety of environments outside of the circuitboards of phones and computers. According to Gogotsi, this makes MXene an appealing material for new antennas because it can be spray applied, screen printed or inkjet-printed onto just about any substrate and remains flexible without sacrificing performance.

“Generally copper antenna arrays are manufactured by etching printed circuit boards, this is a difficult process to undertake on a flexible substrate,” said Meikang Han, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher at the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute who contributed to the research.” This puts MXene at a distinct advantage because it disperses in water to produce an ink, which can be sprayed or printed onto building walls or flexible substrates

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