A National Thin-Film Cluster Facility for Advanced Functional Materials

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Physics


We propose to establish a cutting-edge cluster facility for thin-film deposition of Advanced Functional Materials to be located at the University of Oxford and run as a National Research Facility. This facility will enable multilayer structures of advanced functional materials to be fabricated through a range of deposition processes under vacuum with unprecedented control and versatility. The material systems to be deposited include organic, hybrid (perovskite), metal oxide and metal-chalcogenide semiconductors, organic and metal oxide dielectrics, transparent conducting metal oxides and metals. The Thin-Film Cluster Facility will provide a powerful new combinatorial approach to multi-layer functional material and device design that substantially differs from what can currently be achieved with the number of smaller, isolated deposition chambers that exist in many different locations throughout the UK. Crucially, it comprises central handler units that serve to pass thin-film coated substrates under vacuum between deposition chambers dedicated to different materials and processes. This cluster tool approach will avoid material contamination by atmosphere on transition between chambers, meaning that genuine multi-layer deposition (without degraded interfaces) will be achieved. In addition, the separation of different material families and processes into different deposition chambers avoids contamination that typically occurs when multiple materials are present in the same deposition chamber. The facility will hence act as a high-throughput thin-film deposition tool with ultimate accuracy in multi-layer deposition and device construction for a broad range of materials and applications. It will be complementary (and synergetic) to existing solution-processed techniques in which the UK is already very strong, and fill a strategic gap in the UK's research & development portfolio. The facility will be unique world-wide and place the UK at the center of the development of next-generation materials and devices for applications in energy, photonics and electronics. The facility will act as an epicenter for novel thin film development within the UK, enhancing the coherent research effort funded by EPSRC. Existing links between academia and industry will be strengthened and new links made as this industrially relevant capability delivers new materials and devices with novel functionality to a growing technology industry.

Planned Impact

The primary purpose of this new facility is to enable a broad portfolio of new materials and composites to be developed and integrated into highly functional devices. This facility, combined with fundamental upstream research programmes, will provide a basis to enhance the device performance of organic and hybrid organic-inorganic structures to rival and then exceed those of conventional inorganic semiconductors in a range of applications and to take these into new areas. The key technologies which will be developed are photovoltaic, light emission and photonic devices. The market opportunity for advanced functional materials in energy related markets alone is predicted to be over $113Bn by 2018, the current OLED market is already over $12Bn and the global PV market is around $100Bn. The impact this facility will have is to develop new technologies, to in the first instance capture a significant share of these markets, and then drive the growth in these markets and other currently non-envisaged markets by delivering enhanced operation and functionality.
There is overwhelming evidence that our increasing consumption of fossil fuels and the associated emission of carbon dioxide is leading to climate change. This has brought new urgency to the development of clean, renewable sources of energy, and to reduce our energy consumption by developing new low energy consumption devices to satisfy the growing demand. Photovoltaic devices that harvest the energy provided by the sun have great potential to contribute to the solution, but uptake of photovoltaic energy generation has been weakened by the cost of devices based on current technology. Although silicon PV continues to steadily drop in price, the key to creating a step reducing cost is the development of new photovoltaic materials offering either a step increase in efficiency or allowing easy, large-scale processing from solution or low-temperature evaporation that does not require costly purification and high-energy slow deposition processes. Additionally, fabrication of photovoltaics on conducting plastic or metallic foil electrodes could transform the production techniques from costly semiconductor processing towards reel-to-reel methods, such as web coating conventionally employed for sweet wrapper coatings. The associated materials and devices developed in the cluster facility will have a direct impact on the emerging PV technologies, catapulting them into a high level of technology readiness, and subsequently fuel the then growing industry through the development of next generation materials and interfaces.
The highest energy consumption for electronic goods is lighting, with an estimate of one quarter of the world's electricity generation is used for lighting, where GaN LEDs are taking a hold. The academic and technological relevance of low energy light emission technologies has been recognised by this year's Nobel prize in physics, which was awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura for the invention of the blue GaN LED. The Cluster facility will enable new opportunities for developing new light emitting compounds and device structures to deliver large area low energy lighting.
Beyond commercial, economic, environmental and societal impact, the activities on the cluster facility will aid in the training and education of both scientists and the general public. The training of PDRAs and PhD students in this industrially relevant area will create an employment pool for jobs in research, R&D, energy sectors and other economic areas, and carry the knowledge and skills they acquire into those fields. Public outreach events, such as hands on experimental activities at schools and lectures to the general public and professional societies, will be enhanced by the excitement of rapidly advancing research and technology.


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Description Public Seminar in Wanaka, NZ 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public seminar on Solar PV
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://confer.co.nz/amn8/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Wanaka-AMN8-13-Feb.pdf
Description Various Radio Interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Radio Interviews for BBC world service and news reports
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014,2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/search?q=henry+snaith