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Two-Dimensional Antennas Allow Extreme Thinness and Flexibility

Two-Dimensional Antennas Allow Extreme Thinness and Flexibility
Antennas so thin they can be sprayed into place are robust enough to provide a strong signal in the bandwidths that will be used by 5G mobile devices.
Technology Briefing


As described in the journal Advanced Materials, new antennas so thin that they can be sprayed into place are also robust enough to provide a strong signal in the bandwidths that will be used by 5G mobile devices. The antennas, which are made from a new type of two-dimensional material called MXene, could have important ramifications for “internet of things” technology.

The MXene antennas, developed at Drexel University perform nearly as well as the copper antennas found today in most mobile devices, 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. 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 predicted. But, due to their unique set of characteristics MXene antennas could play an enabling role in the development of “internet of things” technology.

Beyond signal handling capabilities, antennas for devices of the future must also be able to perform in environments outside of the circuit boards of phones and computers. 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. This puts MXene at a distinct advantage because it disperses in water to produce ink, which can be sprayed or printed to create antennas.

The spray-coated MXene antennas described in Advance Materials were between 7-14 times thinner and 15-30 times lighter than similar copper antennae, even thinner than a coat of paint. The researchers tested the antennas in both lab and open environments for gain, radiation efficiency, and directivity across the three radio frequencies commonly used for telecommunication. This included one in the target frequency for 5G devices.

In each instance, the MXene antennas performed within 5 percent of copper antennas, with performance increasing with the thickness of the antenna. MXenes were also 98 percent as effective as their copper counterparts operating in the 5G bandwidth.

Their performance exceeded that of several new materials being considered for antennas, including silver ink, carbon nanotubes, and graphene. And, significantly, these performance numbers did not waiver when the MXene antennas were subjected to as many as 5,000 bending cycles — a mark of durability that far surpasses other materials.

MXene’s scalability and environmental sustainability in manufacturing have been well established.


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