Even if a home is built using the most innovative flame-retardant construction materials on the market, chances are that many of its rooms will still be decorated with stylish wallpaper, which itself is an infamous contributor to house fires. While this popular wall covering has become both safer to use and easier to install over the years, its latest advance is truly groundbreaking: fire alarm wiring and insulation hidden inside the material.

The Inventors

Professor Ying-Jie Zhu and his team over at the Shanghai Institute of Ceramics came up with the idea for and ran several tests on the wired wallpaper, the results of which were later published in ACS Nano. Zhu has published nearly 300 papers in his life, and he was even named one of the “People of the Year 2006” by Scientific Chinese Magazine.

Key Components

Wired Wallpaper - Tests

According to Zhu, his team’s breakthrough was acheived by weaving two types of inorganic materials into the wallpaper: ultra-long hydroxyapatite nanowires and threads of graphene oxide. The nanowires are tiny threads made from a mineral form of calcium apatite, a compound normally found in teeth and bones. Graphene oxide, on the other hand, is a property-shifting form of graphene that can easily be combined with other materials.

How It Works

Wired Wallpaper

Both of the components worked into the wallaper are flame-retardant, but it’s the graphene oxide that actually transforms the wallpaper into a fire alarm. At room temperature, graphene oxide acts as a simple electrical insulator. But when you expose it to high temperatures, the insulation it provides stops working, allowing electricity to easily flow through the wallpaper and activating the fire alarm’s warning sounds and flashing lights.

The Professor Explains

When the professor spoke with phys.org, he expounded upon his group’s findings. “Compared with flammable commercial wallpaper, the fire-resistant wallpaper is superior owing to its excellent non-flammability, high-temperature resistance, and automatic fire alarm function. The fire-resistant wallpaper has a white color, mechanical robustness, and high flexibility, [and] it can be processed into various shapes, dyed with different colors, and printed with a commercial printer. Therefore, the fire alarm fire-resistant wallpaper has promising applications in high-safety interior decoration to save human lives and reduce the loss of property in a fire disaster.”

Moving Forward

Wired Wallpaper - Applications

Zhu and his researchers are set to expand production of their wallpaper in the near future, on top of exploring other uses for the innovative flame-retardant material. He adds that “the mass production of ultralong hydroxyapatite nanowires as the raw material for the smart fire alarm fire-resistant wallpaper is critical. To date, we have realized the scaled-up production of ultralong hydroxyapatite nanowires in an autoclave with a volume of 100 liters in our laboratory. We are striving to explore the low-cost and environmentally friendly large-scale production technology for ultralong hydroxyapatite nanowires. In addition, many companies are interested in the new kind of the fire-resistant paper, and we will collaborate with some companies to realize industrial-scale production in the future.”

Stay tuned for more on this futuristic development in fire prevention and safety.