25.07.2017 12:59


Kick-off for next generation of nano systems technology

In the framework of the new “FunALD” project, a consortium of companies together with research and higher education institutions, including Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU), wants to develop materials for innovative and intelligent sensors. At the heart of the project are the manufacture and use of a new class of functional materials on nanometre scale. The role of HHU’s physicists is above all to take care of nano and surface analysis.

Nowadays, sensors are an integral component in many areas of the economy and our everyday lives. In our cars they detect diesel and petrol fumes in the outside air and prevent pollutants from penetrating the passenger compartment. In food production they monitor ammonia concentration in refrigeration plants. Air quality sensors measure toxic and explosive gases and warn of hazardous leaks.

However, the sensors commercially available today are, by comparison, not sensitive enough for many applications and display a high level of cross-sensitivity, i.e. they also respond to substances other than the ones intended. New, ultrathin materials on nano scale (a nanometre is equal to a billionth of a metre) can be the key to more sensitive, more specific and cheaper sensors.

A research consortium led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems in Duisburg wants to explore a new way of producing materials especially for sensor technology: Atom Layer Deposition (ALD). Another partner in the consortium is a team from the Institute of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics at Heinrich Heine University led by Professor Klaus Schierbaum.

With the ALD process, it is possible to deposit and structure ultrathin layers of material – atomic layer by atomic layer. The result is layers with thicknesses under 50 nanometres. The technology can also be used to assemble self-supporting three-dimensional components on electronic modules. “Such self-supporting nanowires made of metal oxides are the perfect solution for ultrasensitive gas sensors or biosensors,” says Professor Klaus Schierbaum.

The research group led by Professor Schierbaum is contributing its expertise in the field of materials and surface analysis for gas sensors. The team also has extensive experience in the design and production of sensors that can measure hydrogen, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and moisture. More on the Düsseldorf group’s role in the FunALD consortium from Professor Schierbaum:  “We had already dealt in depth with nanostructures for chemical sensors in the framework of a large-scale, EU-funded project and are very pleased now that we can contribute this experience to the new ERDF project and help to shape research and development in the area of ALD layers – integrated in CMOS technology – for sensor technology. Involving industry means that there’s a good chance of introducing the technology into the marketplace and that’s an advantage for companies in North Rhine-Westphalia.”

The FunALD consortium

In the framework of the “New Materials NRW” Lead Market Competition of North Rhine-Westphalia’s federal government, over the next three years a consortium of research institutions, universities and companies will develop a new class of ultrathin functional materials based on ALD technology for mechanical and gas sensors. Project coordinator is the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems (IMS) in Duisburg. Further partners are the Institute of Energy and Environmental Technology e. V. (IUTA) in Duisburg-Rheinhausen, RUB - Bochum University, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf and ExTox Gasmess-Systeme GmbH in Unna. Automotive suppliers paragon AG and Aixtron SE, manufacturers of deposition equipment for the semi-conductor industry, are associated partners.

The project has been awarded € 1.5 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

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