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24 December 2014

UK's EPSRC grants £20m to projects on functional materials

Following its Manufacturing Advanced Functional Materials (MAFuMa) call issued in February, the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded £20m to 10 new research projects that aim to advance the UK's manufacturing capability, develop new functional materials, and accelerate the translation of the science of functional materials through to application. Combined with contributions from the 17 universities involved and their industry partners, the total value of the projects is £32.1m.

The projects include:

  • developing thin-film materials and novel manufacturing methods for wearable technology;
  • improving the mass production of carbon nanotube materials;
  • advanced manufacturing of nanoparticles for healthcare applications;
  • revolutionizing the manufacture and use of specialized glass (chalcogenides);
  • exploiting the potential of flexible perovskite photovoltaics to reduce costs and improve performance of solar cell technology;
  • developing the materials needed for the new class of photonic integrated circuits for use in communications, sensors, imaging and lighting;
  • developing advanced fabrication processes for gallium nitride and related materials, for the UK's emerging manufacturing industries.

For the latter, Bath University (as lead organization), along with the Universities of Bristol, Sheffield and Strathclyde plus industrial partners, have been given a £2.65m five-year grant for the project ‘Manufacturing of nano-engineered III-nitride semiconductors.

The grant will fund equipment and researchers to develop advanced manufacturing techniques for nano-engineered semiconductors, particularly the III-nitrides, with the aim of developing the UK into a future hub for advanced semiconductor material manufacturing. The industrial partners include Plessey, Seren Photonics, Lumerical Solutions, CNRS-CRHEA, NuNano, CIP Technologies, Tyndall National Institute, LayTec UK Ltd, Compound Semiconductor Tech Global Ltd, NMI, and EV Group.

Of the £2.65m, Bristol in particular has been awarded £450,000 to develop manufacturing techniques for nano-engineered semiconductors, particularly gallium nitride (GaN). The research will be led by Martin Cryan, professor of Applied Electromagnetics and Photonics in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Dr Andrei Sarua in the School of Physics.

GaN underpins emerging solid-state lighting and power electronics technologies, and the impact of such materials was recognized by the award of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics to professors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura for their development of GaN-based blue LEDs.

Creating three-dimensional structures at the nanoscale provides a route to improving the quality of these materials and in turn the performance of devices. Ultimately this can increase the energy efficiency in these and other emerging applications, such as water purification, where ultraviolet (UV) LEDs are used to prevent viruses reproducing.

“We hope to propel the UK forward to become much more competitive in the manufacture of advanced semiconductor materials,” says professor Gary Hawley, Dean of Bath University’s Faculty of Engineering & Design.

“This grant will enable us to develop the nanostructuring processes on a manufacturing scale along with reproducible device designs and measurement techniques to unlock the potential of these properties in a range of materials and innovative nano-devices,” says project lead Dr Philip Shields of Bath University’s Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering.

“This grant will enable nanoscale manufacturing, such as nanoimprint lithography, currently being pursued within universities, to be scaled up to 4” and 6” wafers in partnership with leading UK companies such as Plessey Semiconductors,” says Cryan.

The funding should also enable the design and scale-up of a new generation of medical diagnostic sensors based on nanophotonics, exploiting the unique optical and piezoelectric properties of III-nitride materials.

Cryan’s group will work with numerical modeling firm Lumerical Solutions Inc of Vancouver, BC, Canada - which provides photonic and optoelectronic TCAD device simulation and photonic integrated circuit (PIC) design products - to use design centering techniques, which use detailed knowledge of manufacturing tolerances to create very high-yield processes. They will use this approach to design highly efficient LEDs and a range of nanoscale sensors that exploit resonant enhancement based on photonic crystals, nanobeams and nanopillars.

Tags: GaN

Visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk/newsevents/news/functionalmaterialsboost

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