Argonne National Laboratory

Novel Nanocarbon Materials

Ultrananocrystalline Diamond Technology

Diamond thin films have remarkable properties that have the potential to meet the rising demand for more efficient electronics that deliver and convert power.

Argonne’s portfolio of ultrananocrystalline diamond (UNCD) pending and issued intellectual property covers a suite of critical semiconductor processes, such as chemical vapor deposition – which is the process of growing a layer of polycrystalline diamond on a semiconductor wafer or glass at low temperature – as well as doping, which refers to the process of intentionally introducing impurities into an extremely pure semiconductor in order to modulate its electrical properties.

The portfolio also covers the formation of circuit elements such as transistors by integration with graphene, or by fabrication of microelectromechanical systems based on diamond, which are then connected to form complex circuits, compatible with complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology.

This portfolio also includes the integration of electronic circuits that are built on a single semiconductor base material or single chip.

Various applications include, but are not limited to:

  • RF/MEMS, robust MEMS with sliding/rotating contacts
  • Flexible, transparent thin film transistor for flat panel displays
  • Electrochemical sensors, semiconductor devices
  • Thermal management for electronic devices and battery electrodes
  • Field emission arrays for electron and X-ray sources
  • In-vivo biomedical implants
  • Biosensors
  • Transparent, scratch resistance protective coatings on glass

Graphene Technology

Graphene in Electronics

What if you only had to charge your phone twice a year? What if sensors were 100 times as smart and half the size they are today?

Thanks to work by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, those scenarios aren’t as outlandish as they might sound.

Argonne has patented technology to produce wafer-scale graphene that helps electronics run faster, cooler, more efficiently, and at a lower cost. The technology won a 2017 TechConnect Innovation Award. The TechConnect Innovation Awards recognize the top 15% early-stage innovations submitted from around the world through an industry-review process.

Graphene has only been around for a decade, but it is growing fast. Whether it be graphene-based RF electronics, battery electrodes with high thermal conductivities, or technology for fabricating ultrasensitive sensors, the market for graphene is expected to continue to grow.

Graphene as a 'Superlubricant'

Argonne researchers are using graphene coupled with nanodiamonds to reduce friction to near zero. They call the effect “superlubricity,” and it is a very enticing prospect for industries that spend tens of billions of dollars annually to mitigate the effects of friction in gears, ball bearings, and turbines, to name a few.

The Argonne technology offers multiple critical advantages over existing products:

  • It achieves near-zero friction, which greatly reduces energy consumption and wear on parts.
  • It is cheaper than existing solutions. Most industry-standard lubricant coatings must be deposited in a vacuum, requiring costly equipment and limiting the process to parts that fit inside that equipment. The Argonne technology can be applied in air without the use of a vacuum.
  • The mixture is extremely long-lasting. Two surfaces can slide nearly four kilometers on a single drop before the drop needs replenishing.

The nanodiamond-graphene process requires a dry environment, with humidity below 30%. But Argonne has also developed a graphene-only spray for situations in which dryness is impossible. It doesn't achieve superlubricity, but it reduces friction between two sliding steel surfaces by six times and wear by 10,000 times.

The technology won a 2016 TechConnect Innovation Award. The TechConnect Innovation Awards recognize the top 15% early-stage innovations submitted from around the world through an industry-review process.

Argonne is actively seeking industry partners with interest in licensing these technologies or collaborating with Argonne on further development.