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NanoFoil(R) - Nanotech comes to Indium Corporation

I just sat down to talk to Tommy Acchione (pronounced “akki-OWN”) Applications Engineer with Indium Corporation’s  new product line, Reactive NanoTechnologies’ (RNT) NanoFoil®, about the technology, and its offerings into the semiconductor, power semiconductor assembly, LED and display assembly industries.


[ACM] First of all: welcome to Indium Corporation! Can you tell us, in just a few words, what the basis of the RNT Technology is?


[Tommy Acchione] NanoFoil® technology is a thin metal sheet (“foil”) made up from alternating ultrathin layers of aluminum and nickel (Al and Ni). The reaction between these two metals is stoichiometrically very simple:


            Al+2Ni -> AlNi2


And extremely exothermic (heat-generating). This reaction (see picture) is started by a very localized heat or other high-energy source, such as a 9V battery or even a laser beam. For a fraction of a second, the alternating thousands of sandwiched layers reach temperatures as high as 2000degC, and this isotropic heatwave radiates away from the initial hot-spot through the foil at speeds of about 5-8meters/second.


Just banging two lumps of Ni and Al together will never initiate a reaction this intense, as the two large pieces of metal act as very effective heat sinks, but by layering the metals together, the heat-generating reaction propagates by allowing the adjacent layers of Ni and Al to rapidly interdiffuse, so giving out more heat, causing the nearby layers of Ni and Al to interdiffuse and so on.


[ACM] How are these materials manufactured?


[Tommy Acchione] First, we pull a high vacuum, equivalent to those vacuums found in outer space, then we sequentially deposit the alternating layers by a sputtering process onto a specially-made metal block.


For a bonding material, a layer of a specialized brazing material is initially deposited onto the metal block, then the Al and Ni are put down, then a final capping layer of braze is deposited. The initial brazing layer both enhances subsequent bonding and also helps with easy removal from the surface of the metal block.


[ACM] I understand that the uses of these materials are expanding all the time. Can you give some examples that you can talk about?


Well, as you know we have about 30 patents on this technology and 35 outstanding patent applications, but I still have to be careful talking about newer applications, which are emerging all the time.


The biggest uses are in sputtering target manufacture (which is a little ironic, since that is how they are made!); Component mounting; and what we can call “reaction initiation”, or “energetics” - things requiring an instantaneous heat-source.


Sputtering Targets: For sputtering targets of non-refractory metals, standard indium or diffusion may be the preferred method. For most refractory metals and ceramics, solder wetting and CTE mismatches make bonding with standard processes difficult. NanoFoil® allows for these materials to be bonded at room temperature, thus removing any CTE mismatches during bonding or subsequent cooling processes.


However, as targets get larger for flat panel displays (and we are seeing needs for up to 3m x .4m targets with higher generation depositing), indium starts to become too weak to take the weight of the indium-tin oxide (ITO or InTO) target itself, and only the strength of a NanoBond® is sufficient to hold the target in place. Another key factor is that a manual bond of a large target to its backing plate starts to become simply physically unwieldy for an operator, as its size and weight increase. NanoFoil® becomes the elegant and simple solution here.


Component Bonding: One major market that we are seeing is in component bonding. I can’t talk too much about this, but for high-brightness LED’s (HB-LED’s) and photovoltaic concentrators (CPVs) there is a growing demand for a high-temperature stable, thermally-conductive flux-less bonding material able to provide low junction temperatures over the lifetime of the device.


Energetics: Here we are talking about fuses and timed devices, with specially-shaped initiators that take advantage of the ignition properties and the reaction rate and energy produced by the NanoFoil®.


[ACM] Tommy: very interesting! Many thanks for your time.