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ALTernative to Indium Tin Oxide materials for sustainable growth of displays, solar and automobile industries

Final Report Summary - ALTITUDE (ALTernative to Indium Tin Oxide materials for sustainable growth of displays, solar and automobile industries)

Executive Summary:
The electronics/displays and photovoltaic (PV) sectors are massively growing industries with sales worth > €3 trillion and €100 billion, respectively. Of strategic importance, they are major contributors to EU GDP. Despite their many positive impacts, these industries face threats of: (i) sustainability of growth in terms of raw materials, energy and environment and (ii) competitive threat from Asia. The mainstream Transparent Conducting Oxide (TCO) is Indium Tin Oxide (ITO). Without ITO the manufacture of displays and PV cells is not possible owing to the unique twin properties of ITO thin films: metal-like electrical conductivity and glass-like light transparency. This makes ITO absolutely essential in the manufacture of displays and PV cells. The massive industrial growth rates and hence, high demand for ITO comes with substantial problems: high cost of ITO electrode production due to high demand and high price of indium and control of indium resources by China. To counter the above mentioned threats, the EU industry requires the replacement of ITO with lower cost and readily available metals. This is urgently needed to sustain EU solar, displays and electronics industries growth and freedom from Chinese control of these essential raw materials (especially since China is starting to curb rare earth and indium metal exports which is leading to price increases in these materials). By lowering the raw material costs, the AltiTude project also distribute great improvements to the SME participants and to EU industry offering competitive advantage. AltiTude delivers ITO alternative multi transparent conducting oxides (m-TCO) with performance equal or even better than ITO. In AltiTude m-TCOs, the indium is replaced with lower cost and more readily available metals such as Gallium, Zinc and Tin. The result would be an enormous reduction in industry costs and a great increase in sustainability for electronics, displays and solar industries.
Project Context and Objectives:
AltiTude project group has identified an opportunity to develop alternative multicomponent transparent conductive oxide systems (m-TCOs), that will exhibit unique properties by using appropriate combinations of low-cost raw materials, suitable for large scale manufacturing of transparent conductors (TCs). This project is aiming in the replacement of the commonly used but expensive indium tin oxide (ITO) via innovative RTD and thus to achieve substantial financial returns. ITO is considered as the de facto TCO without which the manufacturing of displays (e.g. LCD televisions and smart phone touch screens), solar photovoltaic (PV) cells (e.g. thin film and traditional silicon) and automotive or aircraft conductive glass would not be possible. ITO is a scarce and thus expensive material as its major constituent is indium. Consequently, the use of ITO is not sustainable due to its high indium content (above 72 wt.%). The increasing use of ITO is endangered by the scarcity and high price of indium. A variety of alternative ITOs have been proposed the recent years having limitations in their use taking into account that some of the raw materials used in this alternative TCO are toxic.

AltiTude project focuses on developing its core business via innovative RTD in:

Modeling and design of advanced m-TCO material expiring excellent optical and electrical properties comparable to ITO. This could be achieved by optimizing the suitable stoichiometry’s of the selected binary oxides as well as by modeling and predicting the desirable properties.
Development and implementation of a “Green Dry Route” (GDR) metal atomisation and direct oxidation technique via the creation of a low-cost procedure for the synthesis of m-TCO powders.
Use of “super-activation” via a hyper-energy milling technique leading to the m-TCOs targets, in terms of reducing the particles size resulting to high quality sputtering targets and lower temperature technique.
The main Objectives of the project are:
1. Development of computational modeling process for the electro-optical behavior of m-TCOs
2. Delivery of the Altitude method for production of m-TCO powder of appropriate stoichiometry
3. Delivery of adequate quantities of at least three types of m-TCO powders
4. Production of m-TCO sputtering targets by sintering of “super activates” nano powders
5. Production of 100mm2 samples of three types of sputtered coated m-TCO thin films on glass
Project Results:
Main technical results are:

- Computational models for prediction of the electro-optical behavior of m-TCOs
- Flame Spray Pyrolysis prototype for production of m-TCO powders
- Sintering process for sputtering m-TCO target production
- Sputtering process for m-TCO thin film production
- Solar cell demonstrator based on AZO TCO with novel anti-reflective coating

Potential Impact:
The expected potential impact of Altitude products is positive from any point of view. Initially, it is expected that the exports of the Altitude products will increase the exports of EU in general, resulting an increase in the GDP of EU. The benefits of the SMEs that will use the innovative applications and technological developments of Altitude project will be positive since they will be established as dominant players in the market. The financial profit of the SMEs will increase significantly by selling the m-TCO thin film applications as PV cells and automobile industry. Another positive impact in EU will be from the environmental point of view since a clean method of energy production will be improved. The result equals in reduction of the fossil fuel, as well as an increase of employment across EU. It must be pointed out that the sector of industry that is correlated with the Altitude project results is constantly gowing.
In every step of Altitude’s project there is an innovation that can be used from the correpsonding SMEs in order to increase their profit. At first the manufacturing of nanopowders can be used in order to produce sputtering targets. Prisma will benefit from the patenting of these procedures. The manufacturing of the PVD target that contains no In in its stoichiometry will benefit HenCer enterprise which will be benefitted by selling these targets to the developers of TCO electrodes. Socrates industry can and will adopt the sputtering processes that will be used in order to produce the m-TCO thin films as electrodes. Pulverit will take advantage of the properties of the m-TCO thin films and will apply them in solar panel which is expected to lower their price since they will not contain In and increase their productivity.
The wider benefit of EU is analyzed in four levels. Indium is governed by China. Proper exploitation of Altitude results will enable EU to be in position to act independently in this important field of market. It is known that Indium minings can provide another 15000 tons which means that In will become more scarce and will not fulfill the markets demands. Thus, the price of the devises that use the Altitude products will have a lower price than the existing ones as they will not be depended on Indium price. The third level is the promotion of employment in EU. As it is known there is high unemployment in skilled personnel around EU. Altitude processes and technologies will increase the opportunities of employment. Finally, the thrust that Altitude products will give concerns the European PV solar industry.
List of Websites:
Patrik Karlsson, CERTH/IRETETH
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