Imagine your cell phone powering itself by absorbing the Wi-Fi signals bouncing all around us.

Scientists are developing a new material, MoS2, whose unique electronic properties allow it to harvest electromagnetic radiation. Even better, it’s so thin – only three atoms thick – that it can be painted on almost anything, turning every surface into “smart skins.”

“Electromagnetic radiation from Wi-Fi systems operating at 2.4 and 5.9 gigahertz is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and would be ideal to harvest for powering future distributed electronics,” wrote electrical engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a collectively-produced paper published in Nature magazine. 

MoS2 is a member of the family of two-dimensional materials. Named for their atomic thickness, 2D materials are gaining interest for their energy-saving potential.

Scientists from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore are looking to commercialize platinum selenide, another 2D material that might improve fuel cells. Replacing the platinum in hydrogen fuel cells with platinum selenide would nearly eliminate use of the precious metal in fuel cells, the New York Times said, citing Dr. Liu Zheng from NTU. 

  • Graphene, a form of carbon with a single atom layer, is the more popular two-dimensional material. Huawei used graphene in its cellphone Mate 20 X to help cool the processor, while Samsung is developing a graphene battery, which is said to only take half an hour for a full charge. 
  • Venture capital is slowly catching up with the 2D craze, as 12 companies raised $43.8 million last year, double that of 2018. Graphene electronics technology Paragraf is raised $17 million in December led by Parkwalk Advisors, a U.K.-focused fund management firm. The Cambridge, U.K.-based company claimed its technology can be used to improve green energy generation devices and sensor application. 
  • The most active investors in the space are Champaign, Illinois-based Serra Ventures and National Science Foundation from Alexandria, Virginia, which invested in a total eight deals in the last five years.