Forget those prim Laura Ashley floral patterns and opulent Louis XIV-style designs: Wallpaper’s no longer just about room atmospherics. High-tech versions emit light, purify the air, and even keep buildings from crumbling in bomb attacks. Now Guy Eymin Petot Tourtollet, 46, scientific director of the French pulp and paper research institute Centre Technique du Papier, has invented a snowflake-patterned wallpaper that blocks Wi-Fi signals, while still allowing FM radio and emergency frequencies to pass through.
Eymin Petot Tourtollet—he goes by all three last names—wanted to help people and businesses guard their Wi-Fi networks to improve data security and network speed. Alternatively, the barrier could be used to create Wi-Fi-free zones in homes, hospitals, and theaters for privacy and health reasons. “A lot of people want spaces where they are protected from electromagnetic waves,” he says, referring to potential hazards such as an increased risk of genetic damage and cancer. These have not been conclusively proven, but, he says, “in France there is very much concern about this.”
After four years of collaboration with France’s Institute Polytechnique de Grenoble, Eymin Petot Tourtollet’s team came up with MetaPaper, a filter that’s 99 percent effective against Wi-Fi signals. The secret’s in the patented pattern—printed in conductive metallic ink on nonconductive paper—that blocks only certain frequencies. The selectivity sets MetaPaper apart from anti-Wi-Fi paint, introduced by Japanese scientists in 2009, which blocks all frequencies. Eymin Petot Tourtollet and his team drew inspiration for the pattern from fractals and other geometries. “We even visited some painting exhibits to get ideas from modern artists,” he says.
MetaPaper, which can be covered over with traditional wallpaper, doesn’t block signals that pass through windows and doors. For full protection, Eymin Petot Tourtollet recommends covering windows with standard plastic thermal shields, which filter out all electromagnetic waves. This would create a uniform barrier for Wi-Fi while still allowing other signals to travel through the walls.
Ahlstrom, a Finnish materials company that helped fund Eymin Petot Tourtollet’s research, plans to make MetaPaper commercially available this year. The company did not respond to requests for comment, but research firm Global Industry Analysts says Ahlstrom will sell MetaPaper for roughly $12 per square meter and forecasts that the Wi-Fi-filtering paper will generate sales of up to $38 million in France alone within a year of the launch. “The significance of the discovery lies in the ability … to endow the material with the same functionality and aesthetics as traditional wallpaper, as well as price the product at the same rate as conventional wallpaper,” a GIA spokesperson wrote in an e-mail.
Eymin Petot Tourtollet plans to install MetaPaper both in his office and own home in Grenoble, though he doesn’t yet have permission. “I must speak with my wife,” he says.