NWO support takes pulsed laser deposition to next level

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The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded 4.7 million euros to a consortium led by Differ for setting up a pulsed laser deposition (PLD) lab aimed at energy materials research. The facility will allow science and industry to create relatively large patches of tailor-made thin films and perform in-situ analysis using a range of available diagnostic tools. Applications include solar panels, catalysts for hydrogen production and batteries.

In PLD, a material is shot with a laser pulse, creating a ‘plume’ of plasma that subsequently deposits on a substrate as an extremely thin film. By shooting different targets in a predetermined sequence, materials made-to-order can be created layer by layer. Such nanomaterials may feature unique characteristics that can’t be obtained by other means.

Credit: Andersen Læssøe/CC BY-SA 4.0

Although PLD is an established technique in academia, limitations with respect to sample size have hindered its application in industry. The PLD4Energy lab intends to bridge that gap by providing the ability to create thin-film samples with a diameter of up to ten centimeters. “There’s no equivalent facility in the world. It lends itself to fundamental research and the next, essential step – the actual implementation,” says Differ’s Anja Bieberle, who leads the consortium.

Co-applicant University of Twente will design the facility along with Differ, and Eindhoven University of Technology will provide specific analytical equipment. Leiden University, Delft University of Technology, University of Groningen, Utrecht University and TNO are also partners in the project. Their contribution to PLD4Energy totals 1.6 million euros.

NWO’s grant is part of a 22.7 million euro funding round to expand the Dutch scientific infrastructure. The other winners include an organ-on-chip development center (main applicant: University of Twente), a phased-array radar for extreme weather analysis (Delft University of Technology), a transmission electron microscope that can ‘inject’ light into samples at great precision (Amolf), the Africa Millimeter Telescope (Radboud University) and an improved gravitational wave interferometer (Nikhef).