University of Minnesota researchers created a new technique that transforms metals into thin films. It involves adding organic ligands into tungsten and platinum. (Image Credit: Bharat Jalan MBE Lab, University of Minnesota)
Researchers at the University of Minnesota developed new inexpensive, safer, and simpler technology that turns a group of "stubborn" metals and metal oxides into thin films. These thin films could have applications for computer components, electronics, and displays. The team collaborated with the University of Minnesota's Technology Commercialization Office to patent the tech and already accumulated interest from industry leaders.
Most metals and their compounds need to transform into thin films before being used in electronics, displays, fuel cells, or catalytic applications. However, extreme heat must be applied to the "stubborn" types, consisting of platinum, iridium, ruthenium, and tungsten, so they can evaporate and transform into thin films.
Scientists normally synthesize metal films through sputtering and electron beam evaporation. Electron beam evaporation involves heating the metals at high temperatures until they melt, causing a thin film to form on wafers. However, this approach consumes a lot of energy, isn't very safe due to high voltage, and is expensive to implement.
The University of Minnesota researchers developed a new technique that involves evaporating these metals at less than 200°C. The team achieved this by designing and integrating organic ligands, combinations of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, into the metals. Doing so increased the materials' vapor pressures to make them evaporate at lower temperatures. Overall, the new technique is beneficial because it results in high-quality materials.
"The ability to make new materials with ease and control is essential to transition into a new era of energy economy," said Bharat Jalan, the senior author of the study, an expert in material synthesis, and an associate professor and Shell Chair in the University of Minnesota Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science (CEMS). "There is already a historical link between the innovation in synthesis science and the development of new technology. Millions of dollars go into making materials for various applications. Now, we've come up with a simpler and cheaper technology that enables better materials with atomic precision."
Such metals are often utilized to create myriad products, such as semiconductors for computer applications and display technology. For example, platinum is an excellent catalyst for energy conversion and storage. Not only that, but researchers are exploring ways to use it in spintronic devices.
"Bringing down the cost and complexity of metal deposition while also allowing for deposition of more complex materials like oxides will play a large role in both industrial and research efforts," said William Nunn, a University of Minnesota chemical engineering and materials science graduate student, the paper's first author, and a recipient of the department's Robert V. Mattern Fellowship. "Now that depositing these metals like platinum will become easier, we hope to see renewed interest in the more complex materials which contain these stubborn metals."
In related news, KoBold Metals, a mineral company backed by Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, joined Bluejay to search for metals used in electric vehicles. The company expects to spend $15 million hunting for copper, nickel, cobalt, and platinum as part of Bluejay's Disko-Nuussuaq project in Greenland. KoBold is expected to hold a 51% stake in the project.
KoBold deploys artificial intelligence, machines, and computing to search for raw materials that electric vehicles require. KoBold's investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Ray Dalio, Equinor, Andreessen Horowitz, and Silicon Valley's VS fund.
"The Disko region has seen the rare convergence of events in earth's history that could have resulted in forming a world-class battery metal deposit," said Kurt House, KoBold's CEO, in a statement.
"Disko is a project with great potential for the discovery of globally significant deposits of battery metals," added Bo Møller Stensgaard, Bluejay's CEO.
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