Graphenea collaborates with IK4-TEKNIKER to automate its graphene production

A system for automating graphene production is being designed

The R&D centre is designing together with the company a process that will enable the company’s graphene manufacturing process to be automated and have its reliability enhanced.

Graphene could be the material on which international industry has pinned its greatest hopes owing to its tremendous application possibilities and its numerous physical properties. It is pure carbon arranged in a sheet that is only one atom thick, a characteristic that gives it the following extraordinary properties: it is flexible, 200 times stronger than steel and 5 times lighter.

However, producing sheets of graphene does pose some difficulties, in view of the material’s nanometric characteristics. That is why Graphenea, an enterprise whose base is in CIC nanoGUNE (The Nanoscience Cooperative Research Centre) and one of the few firms worldwide devoted to producing this material, approached IK4-TEKNIKER to work on the design of a production process that would be more automated, standardizable, scalable and reliable.

Graphene sheets are routinely produced using a technology known as CVD, in other words, chemical vapour deposition. The graphene is deposited onto a copper plate when the vapour in which it is being transported dissipates. One of the problems that the company was having was that the production processes needed extensive manual intervention.

To overcome these difficulties, IK4-TEKNIKER’s Design, Manufacturing and Assembly Unit and Graphenea together designed a system for transferring the graphene from a copper wafer to a silicon wafer, a key material in the electronics industry, by means of various chemical baths that dissolve the copper and allow the product to be deposited onto the silicon.

IK4-TEKNIKER has designed one of the basic tools of the new process of Graphenea: an ergonomic system made of Teflon that allows the graphene to be handled in a more straightforward way while it receives the various chemical baths enabling it to be transferred to the silicon.

According to Rafa Enparantza, head of IK4-TEKNIKER’s Design, Manufacturing and Assembly Unit, “it is a project that is having great repercussions on the company’s internal processes. At our centre we often work on major European projects, but in cases like this, when we are working directly with a client that is funding the R&D of a product or process directly, the results can be applied right away and this is very gratifying indeed,” he said.

The project is at a very advanced stage and the members of Enparantza’s team are already working on the third prototype of the system. The first versions were produced using 3D printers in the materials being worked. But now the third prototype is being manufactured in Teflon in order to provide real conditions for the application tests.