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Lost in the buzz about AI, quantum computing and the metaverse, another emerging technology coming out of High Tech Campus Eindhoven is far more likely to change your life sooner, and for the better.

The technology we’re talking about? Thin film.

“Stacking atoms on top of each other”

That technology was front and center 29 January at the “Thin Film Innovations for Cleantech” technology seminar at the HTCE Conference Center. One presenter described the process for making thin film technology “stacking atoms on top of each other,” with precision measured in nanometers, or one-millionth of a meter.

Like computer chips, this is a micro-technology with endless applications, including energy conversion and storage, chip packaging, integrated photonics and biomedical applications. It’s a key sector in Eindhoven’s advanced tech ecosystem, with multiple startups and scale-ups using thin film to make stuff, which made for an info-rich hour, with about 80 attendees.

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TNO, Holst Centre, Touch Biometrix, LionVolt and Solliance Solar Research are perfecting thin film production technology

In the introductory presentation, Holst Centre Research Manager - Thin Film Electronics Auke Kronemeijer noted that his R&D institute is part of a world-class open value chain that includes affiliate institute TNO.

The four domains are healthcare, energy storage, advanced packaging in computer chips and integrated photonics.

On High Tech Campus, researchers have perfected thin film production technology, including spatial atomic layer deposition for tiny chips, flexible displays, panels and rolls including, foldable OLEDs using thin film encapsulation.

Those companies include Touch Biometrix, which makes thin-film biometric security devices and LionVolt, which uses thin-film technology to make 3D solid state batteries. This technology goes into consumer products such as Samsung foldable phones. Solliance Solar Research is developing thin-film solar cells that are lighter and more adaptable to more energy needs.

“Work from labs here goes into flexible displays in Asia,” Kronemeijer noted.

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Need for thin film in energy transition

In the first presentation, Sjoerd Veenstra, program manager for Perovskite Solar Cell Modules at TNO, said that for the Netherlands to meet its energy requirements, the total area covered by solar panels would have to go from 18 square kilometers to 200 square kilometers by 2050.

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That means utilizing more roofs, which will require lighter materials. And that can only be accomplished by developing solar panels with thin PV film rather than conventional panels with glass and metal.

“We need to automate the manufacturing process to have more efficient solar cells and bring back the solar industry to Europe,” Veenstra said.

Carbyon “captures the sky” with help of thin film material

The second presenter of the event was Marco Arts, COO of Carbyon.

Carbyon, which came out of TNO and HighTechXL and is located in HTC 27, is developing new direct carbon capture technology, Arts said. “We capture the sky.”

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Currently, existing technology makes capturing the sky pretty expensive, at about 1,000 euros to capture one ton of C02 and store it or transform it into fuels. Carbyon is developing a much more affordable alternative, “shooting for 50 euros per ton,” he said.

The secret is a reactor filled with thin-film material and a “fast swing” process of capture and release, capturing 10 times more CO2 than existing machines with smaller, more efficient machines using thin film material. Arts said Carbyon will debut its first machine in 2025, promising it will be smaller and more efficient than competitors.

Kalpana Systems is perfecting the art of superspatial atomic layer deposition

The final presentation was by Diederick Spee, founder and CEO of Kalpana Systems.

Founded in 2021 in Delft, Kalpana Systems is a pioneering startup in superspatial atomic layer deposition. The technique enables highly accurate substrate positioning thin film manufacturing for batteries, coating porous materials at higher speeds and making mass production of batteries and other products faster and less expensive.

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All these companies make it more than likely High Tech Campus Eindhoven will be the source of the biggest breakthroughs in technologies exploring nature’s smallest building blocks. Or as Carbyon’s Marco Arts put it, “there are applications of thin film we haven’t even thought of.”

Touch Biometrix, HyET Solar, SparkNano, SALD and Demcon had demos before and after the seminar, where representatives talked in more detail about their technologies and applications.

Read the event summary on Innovation Origins: "From bendable solar cells to better batteries, cleantech has an ally in thin films."