Graphene has elicited reactions from the public that span from sheer wonder to puzzlement, as reports of the new, conductive and incredibly strong, single-atom-thick, transparent nanomaterial continue to draw attention. Still, everyday product applications have been relatively slow to develop.
A recent finding by researchers at Rice University could change that. The group proposes using the carbon-based graphene as a de-icing agent for glass. The film is composed of graphene nanoribbons embedded in a polyurethane coating that can be painted and sprayed onto glazing in 50- to 200-nanometer-thick layers. And the material is transparent, maintaining clear views to the outdoors, while being a good conductor of electricity and heat.
Originally conceived for and tested on military radar domes, the film gives windows the ability to reduce or eliminate the buildup of ice and the presence of fog. Unlike existing metal oxide–based coatings, the nanoribbon film is transparent to radio frequencies, allowing telecommunications signals to pass through. The film requires an electric current to function, however, which is something design teams will need to consider in terms of energy consumption and building systems integration.
“[The capability is] going to be important, as Wi-Fi becomes more ubiquitous, especially in cities,” said James Tour, a materials science and nanoengineering professor at Rice, in a press release. “Signals can’t get through anything that’s metallic in nature, but these layers are so thin they won’t have any trouble penetrating.” He added that the nanoribbons could one day allow scientists to embed transparent electronic circuits in glass. Tour is a co-author of the related paper published this month by the Journal of Applied Materials and Interfaces.
The coating has the potential to maintain transparency for building occupants in noticeable and unnoticeable manners, through both the passage of light and, of increasing importance, communications signals.
Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.