Functional thin films for thermal management solutions in energy systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Materials


Thermal management can be a limiting consideration for many technologies and thin film thermal management layers on flexible substrates will open up the opportunity for low cost highly flexible and adaptable thermal management systems. Polymer materials have many attractive qualities including mechanical flexibility, strain to failure, ease of processing, low density and so on, but they are characteristically poor thermal conductors. The inclusion of highly conducting nanomaterials into a polymer matrix provides the opportunity for enhanced thermal conductivity while retaining, or indeed enhancing, the properties of the polymer matrix. Central to this prospect though is the requirement for good dispersion of the nanomaterials in the matrix and a suitable manufacturing route for large-scale manufacture of the composite material.

The project will combine the expertise of two research groups in the materials department, the 'Nanomaterials by design' group, and the 'Polymer group' to explore materials based on polymer-matrix nanocomposites. A particular focus will be on in situ cured systems (cured by heat or radiation) to allow for superior dispersion and high-throughput manufacture of the resulting composite. This is a largely unexplored approach compared to attempts to disperse nanomaterials in melt-processed materials, and so this is one area of significant novelty in the project. The focus on low viscosity, uncured, materials for dispersion of the nanomaterials, followed by in-situ curing should allow for superior control of the dispersion of particles, and for high-throughput manufacturing processes, particularly for films. Research will investigate suitable nanomaterials, their surface modification, and dispersion into in situ polymerizable matrices. This will involve control of the chemistry of the materials, as well as investigation of process parameters in formation of the layers, and then characterisation by spectroscopy (e.g. Raman), and microscopy (e.g. TEM) of the dispersion. Materials properties such as conductivity and surface finish will be characterised. The research will be directed towards materials suitable for high-throughput manufacture of thermal management thin films, for example using our vacuum roll-to-roll processing facility that provides a novel manufacturing route for radiation-curable polymer thin films, and one that is compatible with many thin film energy technologies, such as thin film batteries or thermoelectric devices that, for best properties, rely vacuum deposited functional layers.

At this stage there are no external companies or collaborators involved, but opportunities will be explored as the project progresses, including with the raft of companies that we already collaborate with in the broader area of the two research groups that this project crosses.

This project falls within the EPSRC research areas of: Energy, Manufacturing the future, Physical Sciences, and Engineering.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/T517811/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2025
2437200 Studentship EP/T517811/1 01/10/2020 31/03/2024 Ryan Schofield