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Printing 2-D piezoelectric materials for sensors and energy harvesting

By Paul Grad |

A new, inexpensive method to print large-scale sheets of two-dimensional (2-D) piezoelectric material has been developed by a team from RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia; www.rmit.edu.au) led by professor of electronic engineering Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh (now a professor of chemical engineering at the University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia; www.unsw.edu.au)). The method is simple, scalable, low-temperature and cost-effective, and significantly expands the range of materials available at such scales and quality, offering the opportunity for new piezo-sensors and energy harvesting.

Until now, no 2-D piezoelectric material has been manufactured in large sheets, making it impossible to integrate into silicon chips or use in large-scale surface manufacturing. The new inexpensive process allows integrating piezoelectric components directly onto silicon chips. The RMIT University team has produced large-scale (several centimeters), wide-bandgap, 2-D gallium phosphate (GaPO4) nanosheets of unit-cell thickness.

Gallium phosphate is a quartz-like crystal used in piezoelectric applications such as pressure sensors and microgram-scale mass measurements, particularly in high temperatures and harsh environments. Because it does not naturally crystallize in a stratified structure and hence cannot be exfoliated using conventional methods, its use has been limited to applications that rely on carving the crystal from its bulk.

The nanosheets are made by a two-step process. The first step involves exfoliating gallium oxide from the surface of liquid gallium — made possible by the lack of affinity between the oxide and the bulk of the liquid metal. The second step involves printing that film onto a substrate and transforming it into 2-D gallium phosphate via exposure to phosphate vapor.

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