Schematics and transmission electron microscope images of the vacuum-filtered, vadanium-based MXene polyurethane composite. Image: Drexel University.
Schematics and transmission electron microscope images of the vacuum-filtered, vadanium-based MXene polyurethane composite. Image: Drexel University.

A recent discovery by materials science researchers in Drexel University’s College of Engineering might one day prevent electronic devices and components from going haywire when they’re too close to one another. The researchers showed that a special coating they have developed, using a type of two-dimensional (2D) material called MXene, is capable of absorbing and disbursing the electromagnetic fields that are the source of the problem.

Buzzing, feedback or static are the noticeable manifestations of electromagnetic interference, a collision of the electromagnetic fields generated by electronic devices. Aside from the unpleasant sounds, this phenomenon can also diminish the performance of the devices, and lead to overheating and malfunctions if left unchecked.

While researchers and technologists have progressively reduced this problem with each generation of devices, their strategy thus far has involved encasing vital components in a shielding that deflects electromagnetic waves. But according to the Drexel team, this isn’t a sustainable solution.

“Because the number of electronic devices will continue to grow, deflecting the electromagnetic waves they produce is really just a short-term solution,” said Yury Gogotsi, professor in the College of Engineering, who led the research. “To truly solve this problem, we need to develop materials that will absorb and dissipate the interference. We believe we have found just such a material.”

In a paper in Cell Reports Physical Science, Gogotsi’s team report that combining MXene, a 2D material they discovered more than a decade ago, with a conductive element called vanadium in a polymer solution produces a coating that can absorb electromagnetic waves. While researchers have previously demonstrated that MXenes are highly effective at warding off electromagnetic interference by reflecting it, adding vanadium carbide in a polymer matrix enhances two key characteristics of the material that improve its shielding performance.

According to the researchers, adding vanadium– a material known for its durability and corrosion-resistant properties, which is used in steel alloys for space vehicles and nuclear reactors – to the MXene structure causes layers of the 2D material to form a sort of electrochemical grid that is perfect for trapping ions. Adding a microwave-transparent polymer, meanwhile, makes the material more permeable to the electromagnetic waves.

Combined, these properties produce a coating that can absorb, entrap and dissipate the energy of electromagnetic waves at greater than 90% efficiency.

“Remarkably, combining polyurethane, a common polymer used in common wall paint, with a tiny amount of MXene filler – about one part MXene in 50 parts polyurethane – can absorb more than 90% of incident electromagnetic waves covering the entire band of radar frequencies – known as X-band frequencies,” said Meikang Han, who participated in the research as a post-doctoral researcher at Drexel. “Radio waves just disappear inside the MXene-polymer composite film – of course, nothing disappears completely, the energy of the waves is transformed to a very small amount of heat, which is easily dissipated by the material.”

A thin coating of the vanadium-based MXene material – less than the width of a human hair – could render an electronic component impermeable to any electromagnetic waves in the X-band spectrum, including microwave radiation, which is the most common frequency produced by electronic devices. Gogotsi predicts that this development could be important for high-stakes applications such as medical and military settings where maintaining technological performance is crucial.

“Our results show that vanadium-based MXenes could play a key role in the expansion of Internet of Things technology and 5G and 6G communications.” Gogotsi said. “This study provides a new direction for the development of thin, highly absorbent, MXene-based electromagnetic interference protection materials.”

This story is adapted from material from Drexel University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.