The NFC antenna is a set of communication protocols that enables very close-range communication between two electronic devices. The development of a flexible graphene antenna opens up a variety of possible applications, such as wearable NFC tags that interact with a smartphone or other electronic device.
Unlike other forms of data transmission, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which have a wide transmission range, NFC can wirelessly transmit data only within a short distance. That makes it less vulnerable to data hacking. Among its applications are tracking and managing inventories, pet tracking, contactless payment systems, security cards, and social networking.
Now Italian researchers working in partnership with the EU-based Graphene Flagship consortium have designed an antenna that can exchange information with NFC devices, such as a mobile phone, matching the performance of rigid metallic antennas. The graphene-based NFC antennas are chemically inert, highly resistant to thousands of bending cycles, and can be deposited on different polymer substrates or silk tissues, researchers said.
"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,” said researcher Vincenzo Palermo, group leader of the Nano-Chemistry Laboratory in the Institute for Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity of the National Research Council of Italy.
"The possibility to produce fully flexible graphene-based NFC antennas showcases future applications, such as wearable NFC tags interacting with smartphones and other devices,” he said.
The NFC antenna was developed with different graphene derivatives. Several designs, materials and configurations were studied and tested. The graphene antenna was laminated on different substrates, including PET, PVC, nylon tap and silk. A silk/graphene paper wearable antenna was developed for the project.
The antenna was tested with a smartphone using an NFC reader application developed by Geneva-based STMicroelectronics and showed good functionality—whether flat or fixed on curved objects, researchers said.
"We 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 of, for example, software or hardware of the interacting devices,” Palermo said.
In addition, he said, fully functional graphene smart cards were prepared to be used as electronic keys, business cards and other NFC applications.
The next step is to find industrial partners to take the graphene-based NFC antennas into large-scale production, he said.
The Graphene Flagship is a European consortium of more than 150 academic and industrial research groups in 23 countries whose mission is to help bring graphene-based technologies from lab to fab.