MSU- Fraunhofer USA Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies

The United States is one of the world’s most important innovation drivers. This is a key reason why the Fraunhofer Society, Europe’s largest applied R&D organization, decided to establish Fraunhofer USA Inc. twenty years ago. The Michigan State University - Fraunhofer USA Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies (CCD) is located in East Lansing, Michigan, on the campus of MSU. For thirteen years MSU and Fraunhofer have collaborated on research projects in the fields of thin film coatings and diamond materials. The center provides customized technology solutions to its clients by combining process, materials and systems knowhow with scientific excellence, quality and project management. Selected ongoing projects are presented here.

Diamond – The Ultimate Wide Bandgap Semiconductor Material for Power Electronics

Diamond crystal produced by plasma assisted chemical vapor deposition
Fig. 1: Diamond crystal produced by
plasma assisted chemical vapor

Researchers of the Fraunhofer USA Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies and Michigan State University were awarded an ARPA-E grant in the field of diamond electronics. The project is to develop a diamond-based diode operating at a breakdown voltage of 1200 V and a forward current of 100 A. The field of diamond synthesis and applications is undergoing a spectacular period of transformation as the ability to deposit high-quality monocrystalline diamond materials advances (Figure 1). Diamond is a unique material with multiple superlative properties, including unmatched thermal conductivity, high charge carrier mobilities, and high electric field breakdown strength. The exceptional semiconductor properties of diamond have enormous potential for high-power electronics technology with applications in transportation, manufacturing, and energy sectors. For a number of power electronics applications, the achievable possibilities with diamond substantially exceed those of other wide bandgap semiconductor materials. The project benefits from the capabilities and expertise gained through the collaborative efforts of Fraunhofer CCD and MSU on diamond material synthesis and fabrication over the last twelve years. 

Transportation Safety – Anti-reflective Coatings for Transit Bus Windshields

DLC coated transit bus windshield section. Left half of sample is uncoated
  Fig.2: DLC coated transit bus 
windshield section. Left half of
  sample is uncoated.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer USA Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies, The Mackinac Technology Company (MTC) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute were awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II Department of Transportation grant to develop an anti-reflective windshield coating for transit bus windows. Transit buses operating at night are required to maintain interior illumination whenever passengers are onboard. This interior lighting reflects off the windshield and obscures the driver’s vision. The problem of windshield reflection creates a hazardous situation, which is being addressed in this research program. This two-year project aims to develop a thin film coating technology capable of reducing the glare on bus windshields and started in September 2014. During the previously performed Phase I of this project, the team demonstrated that an innovative ultra-low refractive index material made of amorphous “diamond-like” carbon (DLC) could be deposited in nanometer thin layers to the surfaces of windshield glass to significantly reduce reflection of visible light and improve driver vision (Figure 2). The awarded Phase II project will build on this success to advance the technology toward a commercial product by applying the coatings to full-size transit bus windows.

Energy efficient window glazing through cost-effective retrofitting

Photo of a test window with four main segments (left) and infrared image of the window with different installed Low-E inserts (right)
Fig.3: Photo of a test window with four main
segments (left) and infrared image of the
window with different installed Low-E
inserts (right)

In the United States, architectural glass windows account for 15-20% of building envelope areas. The US Department of Energy estimates the energy losses through windows to be approximately 50-60%. This means that more than half of all heating and cooling energy gets lost through windows. This energy waste costs the nation approximately 50 billion dollars per year. Currently, the best commercial solution to reduce thermal energy losses through windows is to install multi-pane windows with so-called “Low-E” coatings. Low-E glass is coated with a thin and optically transparent film, which features low thermal emission properties in the infrared spectral region. Many applications of Low-E glass use very thin metal films such as silver. Disadvantages of this solution include the high weight of double or multi-pane windows and the high costs of replacing them when they start to fail. This can happen when air penetrates in-between the panes and corrodes the Low-E coating. Other approaches such as adhesive foils mounted directly to the glass pane are often not effective, hard to install, not attractive optically and in many cases expensive, so that energy savings cannot recoup installation costs within 10 years. The task is therefore to develop a simple retrofit solution for already existing windows, which provides substantial energy savings yet does not diminish the optical appearance of the window.

In collaboration with industry partner, MTC from Grand Rapids, MI, scientists at the Fraunhofer USA Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies are developing a cost-effective and adaptable solution to make already existing windows substantially more energy efficient. The concept is based on a very thin, lightweight, optically transparent and UV stable polymer film that is coated with a wavelength selective and nonmetallic Low-E coating. In the range of visible wavelengths the coated polymer film is completely transparent. This polymer film is not adhering to the glass surface. Instead the film is installed as an insert in a lightweight frame, which attaches to the existing window frame on the inside of the building. It can easily be configured, installed and removed.