Scientist Creating Precise Polymer Coating Method
A scientist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently received a grant to develop an advanced manufacturing platform for polymer coatings using artificial intelligence.
As part of the research, scientists aim to replace batch manufacturing with a more precise flow chemistry process. This switch would reportedly allow for better control of polymer properties and structures, reducing the defects and improving overall quality.
About the Research
Mona Bavarian, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, has received a $576,802 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program for her research.
According to the university, the proposed research focuses on understanding the reaction mechanisms and structure-property behavior of microelectronics polymers synthesized in flow reactors. Bavarian will combine first principles and machine learning models to gain this information.
“Taking this approach, we can improve manufacturers’ ability to produce synthetic materials while limiting defects and improving the quality of high-performance materials,” Bavarian said. “The ‘continuous flow’ process also offers an opportunity for monitoring the process and controlling quality attributes through an advanced control strategy.”
Polymer coatings are described by the university as essential components in the fabrication of many electronic devices, including communications, computing, health care, military systems, transportation, energy and other applications. However, they have stringent quality requirements that scale-up, and purity and production time present major challenges to their manufacturing.
The new approach would reportedly allow for the high throughput manufacturing of specialty polymers with qualities unattainable by traditional batch manufacturing. Additionally, it aims to reduce waste in the manufacturing process, making it more eco-friendly and sustainable.
For example, if something goes wrong in batch manufacturing, the ingredients may be ruined. However, the flow process uses advanced control techniques and allows production staff to monitor the quality of raw materials and stop the process if something goes wrong.
“Specialty polymers require high-precision manufacturing,” she said. “The semiconductor industry has a high need for these materials, especially as electronic devices are becoming smaller and widely used in a variety of products.”
Modeling and manufacturing knowledge gained from this research should be applicable to other specialty polymers, Bavarian said.
Required by Career grants, Bavarian will reportedly train doctoral and undergraduate students, creating 10 research opportunities for undergrads from underrepresented groups and contribute to curriculum development for four high school teachers.
Other Semiconductor Coating Research
In February 2021, researchers from the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science announced the development of a new coating strategy for semiconductors that provides corrosion protection, improves efficiency, and could even lower the cost of solar fuel production. The research group was led by Shu Hu, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering.
According to Yale News, solar fuels are produced when semiconductors are illuminated so that specific materials can allow for the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen. The energy produced from the process is referred to as photocatalytic water splitting.
However, the university notes that the illumination process is prone to corrosion and can lead to the frequent replacement of materials only after a few hours of use. In the past, researchers have attempted to protect the semiconductors by interfering with the separation of charged particles within the semiconductor—a crucial part in the device’s function.
In applying a new method that both allows for separation and prevents corrosion, Hu’s group developed a protective titanium dioxide coating.
“With this new coating, we not only improve the stability of the photocatalyst from a few hours to more than 150 hours, but it also improves the solar-hydrogen conversion efficiency above 1.7%,” said Tianshuo Zhao, postdoctoral associate and lead author of the study.
Zhao further notes that the 1.7% efficiency was a record high for solar-to-hydrogen conversion and believe that future optimization could lead to more increases.
“If we even get to 10%, then the way that we produce solar fuel will completely change,” Hu said. “You see a pathway where the cost of fuels from sunlight is starting to be comparable to the gasoline price or natural gas price. That’s where the tipping point is.”