Forschungs- & Entwicklungsinformationsdienst der Gemeinschaft - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - ALTITUDE (ALTernative to Indium Tin Oxide materials for sustainable growth of displays, solar and automobile industries)

Project Context and Objectives:
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 Galium, 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.
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:
Transparent Conductive Oxides (TCOs) are fundamental components in optoelectronic devices and photovoltaic cells. During the past few decades, tin oxide (SnO2), indium oxide (In2O3), indium tin oxide (ITO), and zinc oxide (ZnO) have been the dominant TCOs for a wide variety of applications. The current state-of-the-art for the production of TCOs is the wet chemistry route which is slow, laborious and expensive as well as environmentally unfriendly. AltiTude proposed an environmental friendly “Green Dry Route’’ for the production of metal oxides via atomisation that will be beneficial for the mass manufacturing of the designed m-TCOs. The AltiTude prototype production machine for dry route synthesis involves the disintegration of a molten metal stream exiting an orifice by oxygen gas jets resulting in oxidized droplets that subsequently impact with an ultrasonic vibrating surface to further reduce their size. With this objective, a preliminary design of an ultrasonic atomisation machine for producing metal powder was explored. In the design process, the most suitable type of transducer and sonotrode were first estimated. The tundish was designed to have a controlled and continuous supply of the melt stream and to facilitate oxidation during atomisation. A simple laboratory-scale atomizer was built and the performance of the atomizer was studied by using pure zinc and tin metals as a model material. Characteristics of as-produced powders were analysed by optical microscopy (OM), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The particles produced by ultrasonic atomisation were solid and their size varied between ~50 – 200 µm for both metals. The morphology of particles appears to be irregular, elongated and tear-drop shaped. Although the experiments were successful in terms of atomising the liquid metal, the degree of oxidation achieved by the oxygen rich gas was low. Attempts were also made to improve the degree of oxidation of the particles produced by this atomization route by heating and isothermal holding at elevated temperature in oxygen atmosphere and by exposing the powder to a propane gas flame. It is evident from the analysis of powders that the complete oxidation of Zn and Sn particles is difficult to achieve using these techniques. This is attributed to the fact that a passive protective oxide layer forms owing to the Pilling-Bedworth ratio which lies between 1 and 2. Ball milling was performed in order to break this protective layer and expose the underlying metal to an ambient atmosphere. With reference to the constraint on the oxidation level achieved using this technique and the project technical risks management as described in the DOW, alternative techniques (i.e. flame spray pyrolysis, solvent deficient reaction and combustion synthesis) to obtain purer metal oxides were explored. The stoichiometries that were proposed from the theoretical calculations were successfully produced by a solvent deficient reaction.. Materials were characterized by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) to identify traces of remaining precursor in the final product. X-Ray diffraction spectroscopy (XRD) was used to confirm crystallographic phases and particle size distribution were studied. Obtained results confirm the suitability of the technique to obtain this kind of m-TCO materials. Combustion technique has also been tested and some preliminary results indicate that obtained products are not pure so a calcination step may be necessary to improve this result. Flame spray pyrolysis experiments are also in progress.

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.

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