Researchers at Fraunhofer FEP develop roll-to-roll plasma process for graphene layers

Researchers at Fraunhofer FEP have developed a PECVD process that enables deposition of graphene at high process speeds and on a wider range of substrates at lower temperatures.

As part of the funded EU project NewSkin, the Fraunhofer Institute for Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has developed the innovative PECVD process that enables the deposition of graphene at high process speeds and offers higher production throughputs and a wider range of substrates at lower process temperatures. The researchers will present the process at Manufacturing World Tokyo from June 19 - 21, 2024 at booth No. E 53-11 in Tokyo, Japan.


So far, scalability issues have been a bottleneck in realizing graphene's potential. In addition, the integration of graphene into existing manufacturing processes is a technical challenge.

Now, Fraunhofer FEP has demonstrated a proof of concept for a pioneering low-cost graphene deposition process.

Current synthesis processes for graphene require the application of high temperatures and the use of catalysts. On the other hand, scientists at Fraunhofer FEP are utilizing plasma-assisted processes. This allows the parameter window for the synthesis of graphene to be significantly expanded, so that deposition is also possible at lower substrate temperatures and higher throughputs at the same time.

To develop the new process, the researchers at Fraunhofer FEP took advantage of the versatility of the inline coating tool MAXI. Depending on the maturity of the process, the multifunctional vacuum coating plant offers the possibility to run processes in sheet-to-sheet as well as in roll-to-roll mode. Moreover, the variety of processes at the MAXI allows for pilot production, providing good prerequisites for the development and scaling of graphene deposition processes.

Dr. Stefan Saager, Group Leader for Coating Metal and Energy Technology, explains the technology: “Graphene can be deposited on metallic strips using the innovative PECVD process in the roll-to-roll mode. In the first step, the metal strip is coated with a thin layer of a catalyst material such as copper in vacuum. This allows the desired substrate material to be selected independently of the suitable catalyst material. The coated metal strip is then fed into a process unit containing an argon plasma. Its argon ions collide with the substrate and heat it efficiently in a very short time. By adding suitable precursor gases such as methane or acetylene, the respective molecules can be cracked into their constituents and partially ionized at the same time. Ideally, the resulting carbon atoms and ions are deposited on the substrate in a monolayer, well-ordered 2D structure, thus synthesizing the desired layer of graphene.”

Due to the plasma ion assistance the formation process can be realized at comparatively lower substrate temperatures than in other state-of-the-art processes.

Using the newly developed PECVD process, researchers at Fraunhofer FEP have already been able to synthesize graphene layers on metal strips with a width of 280 mm at a strip speed of one meter per minute. The process thus enables high production throughput and is associated with cost savings for perspective production processes. In addition, the technology allows for an expansion of the substrate materials that can be used, resulting in a broader range of applications.

As the next step, the scientists at Fraunhofer FEP are going to work on the reproducibility of the results and on the further improvement of the layer properties, e. g. the number of graphene layers.

Another challenge of the new technology development is the precise control of the plasma and temperature conditions for uniform layer quality and morphology. Future research will also focus on improving the winding process of the hot strip and further upscaling the current process parameters.

Posted: Jun 14,2024 by Roni Peleg