Researchers from members of Université Paris-Saclay and the University of Washington have created a game-changing material that could save big money by monitoring industrial equipment for malfunction and more.
Even in today’s ever-digitalized world, it’s hard to imagine life without paper. Invented in ancient China, humans have been using the material for thousands of years to record and transfer information. Today regular paper is made from wood pulp, wood that has been broken down by heat and chemicals into a soft, moist substance that can be pressed and dried into thin, solid sheets. However, paper is not strictly made from one ingredient; others have included linen, cotton, and hemp cloth as well as tree bark.
Now modern-day tools have taken things a step further thanks to new materials and the incredible branch of technology that deals with the ever-so-tiny—nanotechnology. With the ubiquitous use of portable electronics and light weight gadgets, researchers have been increasingly interested in how paper can be revolutionized to do much more than we have ever imagined.
Recently, an international team of researchers including Jinbo Bai and Delong He from the Laboratoire Mécanique des Sols, Structures et Matériaux (MSSMAT) (CNRS/CentraleSupélec, Université Paris-Saclay) and a group led by Anthony Dichiara in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington (Seattle, WA), placed carbon nanotubes (hexagonically packed carbon atoms rolled into seamless cylinders) into a mixture much like the one used to make regular paper. The result is what is known as “smart paper,” a kind of paper that efficiently conducts electricity, allowing it to be used in a wide range of applications including electronics, sensors and energy storage. The team went back to basics by using a traditional paper-making technique which is more eco-friendly than some of the other techniques which are used for creating other kinds of smart paper. Furthermore, while carrying out the study recently published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, researchers realized the paper they created has highly powerful sensing abilities that can detect external stimuli like tension, strain, and even the smallest traces of water. Since the paper also conducts electricity it can be connected to a small LED light bulb that can be triggered by the presence of water.
How can this be applied in the real world? Technology like this is perfect for detecting leaks in any facility that uses large, complex pipe systems. When used in combination with a battery, the paper could be wrapped around a leak-prone area, able to wirelessly emit a signal to a central control board so that staff could be immediately alerted to the leak.
This is only one of the potential applications for this light weight, cost-efficient, and sustainable smart material. Researchers foresee that this technology could also be applicable technology that’s deployed in healthcare, food and beverage, packaging, and manufacturing sectors.
More information: read the original scientific article Dichiara, A. B., et al. “Smart Papers Comprising Carbon Nanotubes and Cellulose Microfibers for Multifunctional Sensing Applications.” Journal of Materials Chemistry A, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 19 July 2017