Scalable and cost-effective manufacturing of nanothin film devices

Engineers at Rutgers University–New Brunswick and Oregon State University are developing a new method of processing nanomaterials that could lead to faster and cheaper manufacturing of flexible thin film devices – from touch screens to window coatings, according to a new study.

Above – Spherical silver nanoparticles and nanowires after being fused by intense pulses of light. Image: Rajiv Malhotra/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

The “intense pulsed light sintering” method uses high-energy light over an area nearly 7,000 times larger than a laser to fuse nanomaterials in seconds. Nanomaterials are materials characterized by their tiny size, measured in nanometers. A nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter, or about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

The existing method of pulsed light fusion uses temperatures of around 250 degrees Celsius (482 degrees Fahrenheit) to fuse silver nanospheres into structures that conduct electricity. But the new study, published in RSC Advances and led by Rutgers School of Engineering doctoral student Michael Dexter, showed that fusion at 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit) works well while retaining the conductivity of the fused silver nanomaterials.

The engineers’ achievement started with silver nanomaterials of different shapes: long, thin rods called nanowires in addition to nanospheres. The sharp reduction in temperature needed for fusion makes it possible to use low-cost, temperature-sensitive plastic substrates like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polycarbonate in flexible devices, without damaging them.

“Pulsed light sintering of nanomaterials enables really fast manufacturing of flexible devices for economies of scale,” said Rajiv Malhotra, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers–New Brunswick. “Our innovation extends this capability by allowing cheaper temperature-sensitive substrates to be used.”

Fused silver nanomaterials are used to conduct electricity in devices such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, display devices and solar cells. Flexible forms of these products rely on fusion of conductive nanomaterials on flexible substrates, or platforms, such as plastics and other polymers.
“The next step is to see whether other nanomaterial shapes, including flat flakes and triangles, will drive fusion temperatures even lower,” Malhotra said.

In another study, published in Scientific Reports, the Rutgers and Oregon State engineers demonstrated pulsed light sintering of copper sulfide nanoparticles, a semiconductor, to make films less than 100 nanometers thick.

“We were able to perform this fusion in two to seven seconds compared with the minutes to hours it normally takes now,” said Malhotra, the study’s senior author. “We also showed how to use the pulsed light fusion process to control the electrical and optical properties of the film.”

Their discovery could speed up the manufacturing of copper sulfide thin films used in window coatings that control solar infrared light, transistors and switches, according to the study. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation and The Walmart Manufacturing Innovation Foundation.

Royal Society of Chemistry – Controlling processing temperatures and self-limiting behaviour in intense pulsed sintering by tailoring nanomaterial shape distribution

Intense Pulsed Light Sintering (IPL) uses pulsed, large-area, broad-spectrum visible light from a xenon lamp for rapid fusion of nanomaterials into films or patterns used in flexible sensors, solar cells, displays and other applications. Past work on the IPL of silver nanoparticles has shown that a self-damping coupling between densification and optical absorption governs the evolution of the deposited nanomaterial temperature during IPL. This work examines the influence of the nanomaterial shape distribution on this coupling and on the temperature evolution in IPL of silver nanowire–nanoparticle composite films. The film thickness, resistivity, micromorphology, crystallinity and optical properties are compared for varying ratios of nanowire to nanoparticle content in the film. It is shown for the first time, that increasing the nanowire content reduces the maximum film temperature during IPL from 240 °C to 150 °C and substantially alters the temperature evolution trends over consecutive pulses, while enabling film resistivity within 4–5 times that of bulk silver in 2.5 seconds of processing time. Nanoscale electromagnetic models are used to understand optical absorption as a function of changing ratio of nanowires to nanoparticles in a model assembly that emulates the IPL experiments performed here. The coupling between densification and optical absorption is found to inherently depend on the nanomaterial shape distribution and the ability of this phenomenon to explain the experimental temperature evolution trends is discussed. The implications of these observations for controlling self-damping coupling in IPL and the optimum nanoparticle to nanowire ratios for concurrently achieving high throughput, low processing temperatures, low material costs and low resistivity in IPL of conductive metallic nanomaterials are also described.

Intense Pulsed Light Sintering (IPL) has garnered significant interest as a rapid and scalable process for sintering nanomaterials into functional films and patterns. In IPL broad spectrum (400–700 nm), large-area (9 square inches or greater) pulsed light from a xenon lamp is absorbed and converted into heat by nanomaterials deposited onto a substrate, resulting in sintering of the nanomaterials. A variety of metallic (e.g. Cu,1,2 Ag,3–5 Ni6) and semiconductor (e.g., CIGS,7 CdTe,8 CdS8) nanomaterials have been sintered within seconds using IPL. Temperature is a critical determinant of densification, substrate distortion and potential substrate damage in this process. It is desirable to minimize processing temperatures without compromising on the sintered material properties and process throughput.

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