Research out of the University of Washington could make it easier for facilities to locate water leaks in pipes.
A professor-led team of students were looking to create electrically-conductive paper but what they discovered was paper that could conduct electricity and sense water. The material is made similar to traditional paper; however highly-conductive carbon nanotubes are mixed in with the typical wood fibers.
When exposed to water, the fibrous cells swell up to three times their normal size which displaces the nanotubes and disrupts the electrical current. In tests, an LED light getting power from the paper would turn off when the paper got wet. Once the paper dried, the conductive network reformed and the light turned back on.
Researchers say the discovery could help detect leaks in industrial settings by wrapping pipes in the paper. If a leak breaks out, the damp paper could set off an alarm alerting a technician of the issue.
And, since the material only reacts to water, researchers say it could also be used to detect small amounts of unwanted water in fuel.