Researchers Develop Fully Flexible NFC Antennas from Graphene

Researchers from Graphene Flagship Italian partner the National Research Council Institute for Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity (CNR-ISOF) in Italy, have developed a graphene-based near-field communication (NFC) antenna.

Being the thinnest, strongest and lightest material known to us today, graphene is flexible, impermeable and extremely electrically and thermally conductive. All properties well suited for next generation NFC antennas. Graphene is currently one of the most extensively studied materials in the world, both on the scientific and industrial level. It is the world’s first two-dimensional material, which consists of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice with a series of unique and outstanding properties.

Near-field communication (NFC) is a set of communication protocols that enables two electronic devices to transfer data at short distances. The most distinctive characteristic of NFC is the fact that it can transmit small amounts of data wirelessly only within a close range while other methods, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, have a longer transmit range of up to 10 or even 100 m. The reason why NFC technology is used to identify objects is that, with such a close transmitting range, it is more secure and less vulnerable to data hijacking. Application areas are tracking and managing inventories, assets, people, animals, contactless payment systems, security cards and social networking.

This new research shows that it is possible to use graphene to produce fully flexible NFC antennas. By combining material characterization, computer modelling and engineering of the device, the Graphene Flagship researchers designed an antenna that could exchange information with near-field communication devices such as a mobile phone, matching the performance of conventional metallic antennas. The graphene-based NFC antennas are chemically inert, highly resistant to thousands of bending cycles and can be deposited on different standard polymeric substrates or silk tissues.

A key target for modern technology is to replace metals with lighter, cheaper, less energy-consuming and better recyclable materials. Due to its unique combination of superior properties, graphene can be used to produce fully flexible NFC antennas.

The possibility to produce fully flexible graphene based NFC antennas showcases future applications such as a wearable NFC tag interacting with smartphones and other devices. The researchers have developed the NFC antenna with different graphene derivatives. Several designs, materials and configurations were studied and tested. The graphene antenna was laminated on different substrates like PET, PVC, Kapton, furthermore a silk/graphene paper wearable antenna was prepared. This technology could be developed further within the field of flexible electronics and communication technology.

The fully flexible graphene NFC device demonstrators were tested with a smartphone through the NFC reader App by STMicroelectronics, a Graphene Flagship partner to show good functionality on flat and fixed curved objects.

Researcher's demonstrated that, if this approach is performed in the right way, the graphene antennas can be used directly in working devices, with no additional tuning. Finally, some fully working graphene smart cards were prepared in order to be used as electronic keys, business cards and other typical NFC applications.