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Materials and Surfaces

Today plasmas are indispensable tools in the field of thin-film technology. They create new surface properties and enable synthesis of nano-scale materials. The spectrum of plasma-assisted and ion-assisted surface treatment processes ranges from structured material removal, such as etching or precision cleaning, to modification of the interfacial properties, e.g. for control of gluability or printability, and extends to production of functional films with applications for protection against corrosion, heat or mechanical abrasion, and for the coating of optics. Synthesis of nanostructured materials or nanoparticles using plasma processes opens up new perspectives in the area of storage and transformation of renewable energy sources, such as components for electro-catalysis (battery and fuel cell technology) or hydrogen technology. The variety of applications is based on a number of engineering advantages offered by plasma processes, such as a low thermal load of components, comparative environmental compatibility, precise control, along with negligible impact on the properties of the base material. In the research programme, innovative plasma processes are studied, technical plasmas are applied, experimentally characterized, simulated and considered in context with film and surface properties. Knowledge of this correlation ultimately results in better controlled manufacturing processes, which in turn leads to superior products.

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Application fields

Plasma processes can be used in the production of essential components and materials for energy storage/ conversions, such as the synthesis of catalytic surfaces in hydrogen technologies or for batteries and in related areas such as sensor technology, chemical synthesis and water and gas purification and treatment processes.

The expertise in this research program is on plasma-based synthesis methods for the deposition of nanodimensional metallic, metal-oxide and graphitic particles and thin films and their characterization. PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition) is used as plasma method, e.g., Magnetron sputtering and plasma ion assisted deposition, plasma pyrolysis and PECVD (Plasma Enhanced Chemical Vapour Deposition) and combinations of these methods to more complex hybrid methods. In addition to these vacuum-based methods, atmospheric plasma processes are also used in liquids for the generation of carbon nanostructures and metal-oxide, as well as metallic nanoparticles. Some application-oriented projects are currently being carried out, for example, in the development of synthesis methods for platinum- and nickel-based catalysts, graphene and metal-oxide-based electrode and membrane components, as well as the plasma-chemical bonding of catalysts to substrates.

Thin layers give many materials better properties. Depending on the application, the coatings fulfill special functions: with tribologically stressed components, they reduce mechanical abrasion; or with metals, the tendency to corrosion. They serve to improve the adhesion of material composites, have a decorative character, facilitate cleaning ('easy-to-clean') or can provide the plastic surfaces with increased scratch protection. As a structure-compliant, low-pore and transparent barrier layer, they prevent the permeation of gases, e.g., in PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles or protect sensitive goods from the diffusion of solvents ('leachables') from the walls of plastic containers. In semiconductor technology and optics, coatings function such as a dielectric, EMC shielding, and anti-reflective coatings.

In addition to plasma-assisted vacuum coating processes, the research focus is on the production of coatings using atmospheric pressure PECVD. For this purpose, non-thermal high-frequency plasma jets with plasma diagnostic methods, such as Laser-Schlieren-Deflectometry are investigated, discharge- and layer-formation models are created and interpreted, in connection with the obtained layer properties.

Plasma and ion processes are used in the manufacturing of precision optics, which are the key components for equipment in the areas of telecommunications, imaging, laser applications or measurement technology. Thus, the functional principle of many optical components, such as highly-reflective dielectric laser mirrors and high-quality optical filters is based on interference layer systems that are grown on the optical elements.

Typically, stacks of up to several hundred single layers of various materials (oxides, fluorides) each with a layer thickness of a few tens of nm are deposited. Moreover, the optical properties can also be influenced through nanoscale surface structuring, for example to generate anti-reflective coatings. To achieve the high fabrication quality of the coating systems regarding reproducibility of the coating properties (refractive index, absorption, layer thickness), the deposition process needs to be controlled. Consequently, at the INP, the properties of these coating plasmas are monitored on industrial production devices. The data are complemented by discharge models and correlated with the resulting coating properties.

Project topics

Programme: "Materials for a resource-efficient industry and society - MatRessource" Project Management Organization: Federal Department of Education and Research; Projektträger Jülich (PTJ)/Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH

The project aims to develop a resource-efficient process for the manufacturing of Oxo products, an important and economically significant class of platform chemicals e.g., fragrances and plasticizers. This should be made possible by the use of heterogeneous catalyst systems. The overall scientific objective is a novel catalysis concept, combining the advantages of homogeneous catalysis with those of heterogeneous catalysis. The following topics are examined in the INP: Variable production of functionalized organic and inorganic carrier materials by targeted plasma treatment, fixation of homogeneous catalysts on these heterogeneous surfaces, screening in various hydroformylation reactions, analytical and theoretical penetration of the interplay between catalyst preparation and catalyst properties and optimization based thereon, upscaling of the catalysis for the production of fine and bulk chemicals.  

Project manager:
Dr. Volker Brüser
Phone: +49 3834 554 3808

Fiber-based high-performance lasers are used for processes such as welding, cutting, and drilling, as well as for surgical procedures. The material basis of these lasers is optical fibers made of doped quartz glass. This doping significantly determines their optical properties. Now a new approach is being pursued together with partners from the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (IPHT) in the Leibniz Competition project launched in 2017: Microwave generated plasmas achieves the required material separation under normal pressure conditions. The advantage of plasma-assisted processes lies in the fact that different parameters can be precisely adjusted when generating the doping, meaning, fibers of thus far unique quality can be produced. In INP, plasma diagnostic methods are used and supplemented by simulations and modeling methods to understand in detail the chemical and physical processes taking place in the plasma. The optimal process conditions determined in this way form the basis for the production of new glass materials at the IPHT in Jena. At the fiber drawing tower there, optical fibers are created from these fibers, whose optical properties and laser efficiency ultimately represent the benchmarks for the project.

Project manager:
Dr. Rüdiger Foest
Phone: +49 3834 - 554 3835

Within the "3DnanoMe 2.0" project plasma technology is applied to economically manufacture electrocatalysts in 3-phase systems. These enable the conversion of electrical into chemical energy and vice versa for storage or generation of energy, e.g. in hydrogen technology. The endeavor thus  contributes to a sustainable, fossil-free energy economy.
The project takes over the central idea from the plasma-based process developed at the INP, which has now been patented and published (link to publication above), and facilitates the production of electrocatalytic films with high activities and high stability. By lowering the activation barrier, these catalytic layers increase the speed of chemical reactions and, when used in gas diffusion electrodes or membrane-electrode assemblies, can be used in electrochemical systems such as fuel cells and electrolyzers. This technology is up-scaled to a relevant substrate sizes for industrial use and validated in fuel cells and electrolyzers under real conditions, i.e. to accomplish the leap from laboratory to application. For this purpose, the new catalyst concept is implemented directly into the membrane-electrode arrangement or gas diffusion electrode.
The project is funded with appr. € 1.4 mio. from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF, grant number 03VP06451). As part of the high-tech strategy 2025 “Research and innovation for people”, the BMBF aims to identify the diverse application potentials of excellent research faster and more effectively and to make it usable for business and society. The funding measure “Validation of the technological and societal innovation potential of scientific research - VIP +” is intended to support researchers in validating research results and making their application possible.

Project lead:
Dr. Rüdiger Foest
Tel.: +49 3834 554 3835

Sievers, Gustav W. et. al.: Self-supported Pt-CoO networks combining high specific activity with high surface area for oxygen reduction, in: Nature Materials, 24. August 2020.

View into the plasma region of the vacuum chamber fot the plasma-assisted thin film deposition. Three magnetrons allow for the deposition of multi-component films.
Nanoporous Platinum film

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Leibniz Institute for Plasma Science and Technology
Felix-Hausdorff-Str. 2
17489 Greifswald

Dr. Rüdiger Foest
Programme Manager "Materials and Surfaces"

Phone: +49 3834 - 554 3835
Fax: +49 3834 - 554 301