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Microwave-plasma platform engineers solid-material properties

By Scott Jenkins |

A new production process for engineering a range of nano- and microstructured solid materials can reduce the costs of manufacturing the materials compared to conventional “wet-chemistry” approaches, and can allow novel chemistries that are not accessible through traditional methods. Developer Amastan Technologies (North Andover, Mass.; www.amastan.com) has built two production-scale plasma reactors and plans to launch its first commercial products — metal powders designed for 3-D printing — in 2019.

The technology platform, known as Uni-Melt (diagram), concentrates microwave energy inside the reactor to produce a highly uniform, 6,000K plasma region for synthesis of solid particles. Raw materials, in the form of solution precursors or raw solids, are fed into the reactor in a continuous process using a carrier gas. By carefully and precisely controlling a set of 15 process parameters, the system can guide the formation of a range of engineered solid materials with various properties. The controlled parameters include plasma power, residence time and flow gas, which can create oxidizing, reducing or neutral environments for synthesis.

“The Uni-Melt platform is highly versatile, with the ability to create dense metal powder with spherical morphology, such as those required for 3-D printing, as well as pure crystal structures with defined stoichiometry, such as those required for catalysts or cathode powders,” says Amastan CEO Aaron Bent. The platform can also be used to create high-surface-area materials, nanostructured surfaces and materials with extremely tight particle size distributions, he says.

“By carrying out the synthesis using plasma, it is possible to eliminate multi-step batch processes that generate sizeable levels of waste,” Bent explains. “And the ions and radical species in the plasma offer the opportunity to access chemical routes that would not be attainable with wet-chemistry approaches.”

After the 3-D printing metal powders, Amastan plans to commercialize cathode powders for advanced battery applications.

plasma

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