Instead of starting from a silicon wafer or other substrate, as is usual today, researchers have made it possible for the structures to grow from freely suspended nanoparticles of gold in a flowing gas.
Image: Aerotaxy production process
Behind the discovery is Lars Samuelson, Professor of Semiconductor Physics at Lund University, Sweden, and head of the University’s Nanometre Structure Consortium. He believes the technology will be ready for commercialisation in two to four years’ time. A prototype for solar cells is expected to be completed in two years.
“When I first suggested the idea of getting rid of the substrate, people around me said ‘you’re out of your mind, Lars; that would never work’. When we tested the principle in one of our converted ovens at 400°C, the results were better than we could have dreamt of”, he says.
A further advantage of the technology is avoiding the cost of expensive semiconductor wafers.“In addition, the process is not only extremely quick, it is also continuous. Traditional manufacture of substrates is batch-based and is therefore much more time-consuming”, adds Lars Samuelson.
The reason why no one has tested this method before, in the view of Professor Samuelson, is that today’s method is so basic and obvious. Such things tend to be difficult to question.
However, the Lund researchers have a head start thanks to their parallel research based on an innovative method in the manufacture of nanowires on semiconductor wafers, known as epitaxy – consequently, the researchers have chosen to call the new method aerotaxy. Instead of sculpting structures out of silicon or another semiconductor material, the structures are instead allowed to develop, atomic layer by atomic layer, through controlled self-organisation.
The structures are referred to as nanowires or nanorods. The breakthrough for these semiconductor structures came in 2002 and research on them is primarily carried out at Lund, Berkeley and Harvard universities.
The Lund researchers specialise in developing the physical and electrical properties of the wires, which helps create better and more energy-saving solar cells, LEDs, batteries and other electrical equipment that is now an integrated part of our lives.The article ‘Continuous gas-phase synthesis of nanowires with tuneable properties’ can be found by entering “I 10.1038/nature11652” here: http://dx.doi.org/.
The research has been funded by the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF), the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and Vinnova.For more information, contact Lars Samuelson, +46 46 222 76 79, +46 703 17 76 79, Lars.Samuelson@ftf.lth.se.
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