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Subwavelength Nanostructure Pilot (Sun-Pilot)

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SUN-PILOT (Subwavelength Nanostructure Pilot (Sun-Pilot))

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2021-01-01 do 2022-06-30

The SUN-PILOT Project

The aim of SUN-PILOT is to develop a novel and cost-effective platform for up-scaling the fabrication of sub-wavelength nanostructures across large and non-planar surfaces. This will be achieved using state-of-the-art block copolymer chemistry and highly scaleable etching and injection moulding methods. Specific outcomes will include the demonstration of a clean and sustainable nano-patterning technology capable of reducing the maintenance and capital investment costs for optical component users whilst enhancing the lifetime of anti-reflection parts.

Context

Nanostructured surfaces that engineer the interaction between an object and its surroundings are a subject of scientific and manufacturing importance. Nature routinely creates nanostructured surfaces with fascinating properties, such as antireflective moth eyes, self-cleaning lotus leaves, colourful butterfly wings, and water harvesting desert beetles. Well-defined nanostructured surfaces have huge commercial potential due to product enhancement: reduced reflectivity in photonic devices and solar panels, antiglare plastic parts for the automotive industry, hydrophobic self-cleaning surfaces for smart packaging, antireflective and smudge-free smartphone displays, and biofouling resistant marine and water treatment systems. Unfortunately, the lack of cost-effective, scalable, nanopatterning methods is a major hurdle for the commercial exploitation of nanopatterned surfaces.

Objectives and Impact

SUN-PILOT will address this challenge by developing a novel and cost effective platform for up-scaling sub-wavelength nanostructures fabrication techniques that can be applied to curved surfaces such as optical lenses, and the mass production of metal moulds for injection moulding of plastic parts.
This project brings together scientists and engineers to span innovation, business development and the product cycle from suppliers to end users. Achieving the objectives will ensure a leadership role for Europe in the production of nanostructured surfaces.

Methodology

The SUN-PILOT consortium will develop a pilot production process capable of creating a tailored nanopattern on a surface. The process has two key stages; a masking step using block copolymers that self-assemble into a defined pattern, and an etching step to transfer that pattern into the substrate below. The project will first apply this process on optical glasses, and to metals suitable for injection mould inserts. Also included in the work programme are activities on design and production of tailored block copolymers and polymer additives, and on demonstration of injection moulded parts for the automotive industry.
In the first period of the project, the team’s focus has been on establishing a high quality, scalable source for some of the key polymers used in the nanostructuring process. These have been designed on principles of sustainability and reliability, considering availability, lifecycle costs and impact relative to equivalent materials on the market today. University of Bordeaux (Laboratoire de Chimie des Polymères Organiques) and Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research have collaborated to design a new process for making high molecular weight block copolymer systems, while Micro Resist Technology GmbH have developed new additives for easy peel injection moulding.

In parallel, Trinity College Dublin and AMO GmbH began process development and optimisation for fabrication of glass with antireflective surfaces, and metals with surfaces that reduce glare, repel water and dirt, or reflect certain colours. Activity was steered by our set of end users in the optics and automotive industries, and our production and process experts IPO and Tecnalia. The first samples of AR glass were produced and shared within the consortium for evaluation.

In the second period of the project, the team’s focus has been on evaluating and modifying key polymers used in the nanostructuring process and bridging the gap to volume production. Pilot implementation started properly in this period, with the objective of pilot-scale demonstration of material production, masking and etch processes and injection moulding. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was significant in on our activity, with many partners experiencing long shut-downs, travel restrictions and procurement difficulties.

The partners continued to work under these restrictive conditions on methods for production of antireflective glass, and metals for injection moulding parts with functional surfaces, tackling significant challenges in achieving the desired periodicity patterns, transferred with fidelity to the target substrate. Optical modelling and simulation work has progressed, and optimisation work on for the injection-moulding pilot was initiated.
The expected impact of SUN-PILOT for the optics Industry is a disruptive surface patterning technology that will boost the performance/cost ratio of photonic devices, as pilot production demonstrates mass fabrication of scratch and wear-resistant antireflective optical surfaces. Significant enhancement will be achieved in the efficiency of optical components and systems incorporating these devices, such as laser systems, electronic displays, security cameras and medical devices.

The automotive industry will benefit from a novel method to produce functional surfaces at lower cost and lighter weight than existing lamination methods.
In both industries, the replacement of coatings and lamination with surface modification will have real environmental benefit, eliminating the need for several intensive processes and harmful chemicals in production, and making parts easier and cleaner to reuse and recycle.

The new pilot production capacities – polymer synthesis, surface treatment and etching, and injection moulding, will be made accessible to other projects and teams developing similar technologies.
Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research pilot production facilities
Moth-eye structure in nature
Example of a surface structured injection moulded product
Nano-mask applied to an optical lens
Example of a surface structured injection moulded insert