Extremely Thin and Highly Flexible Graphene-based Thermoacoustic Speakers

graphene
Figure 1: A Thermoacoustic Loudspeaker Consisted of an Array of 16 3D Graphene Aerogels

A joint research team led by Professors Jung-Woo Choi and Byung Jin Cho of the School of Electrical Engineering and Professor Sang Ouk Kim of the Material Science and Engineering Department, all on the faculty of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), has developed a simpler way to mass-produce ultra-thin graphene thermosacoustic speakers.

Their research results were published online on August 17, 2016 in a journal called Applied Materials & Interfaces. The IEEE Spectrum, a monthly magazine published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, reported on the research on September 9, 2016, in an article titled, “Graphene Enables Flat Speakers for Mobile Audio Systems.” The American Chemical Society also drew attention to the team’s work in its article dated September 7, 2016, “Bringing Graphene Speakers to the Mobile Market.”

Thermoacoustic speakers generate sound waves from temperature fluctuations by rapidly heating and cooling conducting materials. Unlike conventional voice-coil speakers, thermoacoustic speakers do not rely on vibrations to produce sound, and thus do not need bulky acoustic boxes to keep complicated mechanical parts for sound production. They also generate good quality sound in all directions, enabling them to be placed on any surface including curved ones without canceling out sounds generated from opposite sides.

Based on a two-step, template-free fabrication method that involved freeze-drying a solution of graphene oxide flakes and the reduction/doping of oxidized graphene to improve electrical properties, the research team produced a N-doped, three-dimensional (3D), reduced graphene oxide aerogel (N-rGOA) with a porous macroscopic structure that permitted easy modulation for many potential applications.

Using 3D graphene aerogels, the team succeeded in fabricating an array of loudspeakers that were able to withstand over 40 W input power and that showed excellent sound pressure level (SPL), comparable to those of previously reported 2D and 3D graphene loudspeakers.

Choong Sun Kim, the lead author of the research paper and a doctoral student in the School of Electrical Engineering at KAIST, said:

“Thermoacoustic speakers have a higher efficiency when conducting materials have a smaller heat capacity. Nanomaterials such as graphene are an ideal candidate for conductors, but they require a substrate to support their extremely thinness. The substrate’s tendency to lose heat lowers the speakers’ efficiency. Here, we developed 3D graphene aerogels without a substrate by using a simple two-step process. With graphene aerogels, we have fabricated an array of loudspeakers that demonstrated stable performance. This is a practical technology that will enable mass-production of thermosacoustic speakers including on mobile platforms.”

The research paper is entitled “Application of N-Doped Three-Dimensional Reduced Graphene Oxide Aerogel to Thin Film Loudspeaker.” (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b03618)

Figure 2: Two-step Fabrication Process of 3D Reduced Graphene Oxide Aerogel Using Freeze-Drying and Reduction/Doping

Figure 3: X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy Graph of the 3D Reduced Graphene Oxide Aerogel and Its Scanning Electron Microscope Image