FUJIFILM Dimatix materials printer leverages MEMS for research

April 8, 2008 — FUJIFILM Dimatix, supplier of drop-on-demand inkjet printheads for industrial applications, says researchers have used its cartridge-based Dimatix Materials Printer (DMP) to devise a novel method of rapidly producing, testing, and optimizing new materials that hold promise for efficiently producing hydrogen from water and sunlight.

The new inkjet-based method developed by researchers at the Department of Chemistry at Colorado State University relied on a FUJIFILM Dimatix DMP-2800 Materials Printer to quantify the optimal proportions and deposition conditions of promising new metal oxides by precision-printing controlled arrays of finely-graded compounds onto transparent conductive substrates.

The new method allowed the researchers to readily quantify mixtures of compounds in a printed matrix that were the most promising candidates for further research. Using it, the researchers were able to isolate a particular chemical compound that has potential for water photoelectrolysis. (Water photoelectrolysis – also known as “solar water splitting” – involves converting sunlight into an electrical current, and using that current to divide water into hydrogen and oxygen. Photoelectrolysis process efficiency is critical for energy-efficient hydrogen production.)

Precision jetting and other advanced features of the FUJIFILM Dimatix Materials Printer allowed the researchers to accurately determine droplet volumes of the different compound gradients, the number of nozzles firing, the jetting waveform for individual nozzles and the frequency of nozzle firing. “All of these parameters are important for a quantitative determination of the amount of each component printed within the combinatorial template,” said Michael Woodhouse, PhD, a Colorado State University researcher who worked with Professor Bruce Parkinson, and who is now on the research staff of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The Dimatix Materials Printer, which was used with Dimatix Materials Cartridges to jet 10-picoliter-sized droplets, also allowed the researchers to further optimize the performance of the most promising metal oxide compounds by printing different spot densities or multiple layers in order to vary the thickness of the resulting multicomponent metal oxide film; and to test entirely new compounds in a controlled fashion by adding other materials to the optimized composition.
The compound optimized during the research is composed of three common elements – aluminum, cobalt and iron – providing hope that the method can be used to find new solar water splitting materials that are not only functional but also inexpensive, said Dr. Woodhouse.

“As oil prices continue to rise and political and environmental problems become more of a concern, the quest to discover such materials for the production of alternative transportation fuels becomes very appealing,” he explained.

The research was funded by a U.S. Department of Energy grant and has been published by the American Chemical Society journal, Chemistry of Materials.

The Dimatix Materials Printer is a turnkey, bench-top materials deposition system that leverages FUJIFILM Dimatix’ ink jet technology and Shaped Piezo Silicon MEMS fabrication processes in depositing picoliter-sized droplets of functional fluids on all types of surfaces. By employing single-use cartridges that researchers can fill with their own fluid materials, the DMP system minimizes waste of expensive fluid materials, thereby eliminating the cost and complexity associated with traditional product development and prototyping. FUJIFILM says that the DMP is suitable for prototyping and low-volume manufacturing, and the technology is scalable from R&D to production.

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