Scientists develop novel semiconductor manufacturing technology

A research team from Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), has developed semiconductor manufacturing technology.

Why has this semiconductor manufacturing technology been created?

Scientists from KIST has synthesised metal nanoparticles that can drastically improve the performance of hydrogen fuel cell catalysts by utilising the semiconductor manufacturing technology.

Seok Jin Yoon, president at KIST, announced that the research team led by Dr Sung Jong Yoo from the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Research Center has succeeded in synthesising nanoparticles using a physical method, rather than the existing chemical reactions that are performed by using the sputtering technology. The sputtering technology is a thin metal film deposition technology used in semiconductor manufacturing.

Researchers have been studying metal nanoparticles in various fields over the past few decades. Recently, metal nanoparticles have been attracting attention as a critical catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells and water electrolysis systems to produce hydrogen.

How did scientists develop this technology?

Metal nanoparticles are mainly prepared through what are considered to be complex chemical reactions. In addition, they are prepared using organic substances harmful to the environment and humans.

Additional costs are inevitably incurred for their treatment, and the synthesis conditions are challenging. Thus, a new nanoparticle synthesis method that can overcome the shortcomings of the existing chemical synthesis is required to establish the hydrogen energy regime.

The sputtering process applied by the KIST research team is a technology that coats a thin metal film during the semiconductor manufacturing method.

During this process, plasma is used to cut large metals into nanoparticles, which are then deposited on a substrate to form a thin film. The research team prepared nanoparticles using ‘glucose,’ which is a special substrate that prevented the transformation of the metal nanoparticles into a thin film, by using plasma during the process.

Additionally, the synthesis method utilised the principle of physical vapor deposition by employing plasma rather than chemical reactions. Therefore, metal nanoparticles could be synthesised by operating this simple method, overcoming the limitations of the existing chemical synthesis methods.

How has this process been hindered?

The development of new catalysts has been impeded because the existing chemical synthesis methods limit the types of metals that could be used as nanoparticles. In addition, the synthesis conditions must be changed depending on the type of metal.

However, it has become possible to synthesise nanoparticles of more diverse metals through the developed synthesis method; if this technology is simultaneously applied to two or more metals, alloy nanoparticles of various compositions can be synthesised. This would lead to the development of high-performance nanoparticle catalysts based on alloys of various compositions.

KIST scientists synthesised a platinum-cobalt-vanadium alloy nanoparticle catalyst by utilising this technology and applied for the oxygen reduction reaction in hydrogen fuel cell electrodes.

As a result, the catalyst activity was up to seven times higher than those of platinum and platinum-cobalt alloy catalysts that are commercially employed as catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells, respectively.

Additionally, researchers investigated the impact of the newly added vanadium on other metals in the nanoparticles. They discovered that vanadium improved the catalyst performance by optimising the platinum–oxygen bonding energy through computer simulation.

Dr Sung Jong Yoo of KIST concluded: “Through this research, we have developed a synthesis method based on a novel concept, which can be applied to research focused on metal nanoparticles toward the development of water electrolysis systems, solar cells, petrochemicals.

“We will strive to establish a complete hydrogen economy and develop carbon-neutral technology by applying alloy nanoparticles with new structures, which has been difficult to implement, to development eco-friendly energy technologies including hydrogen fuel cells.”

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