VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a fully recyclable new packaging material which, among other things, is able to replace many if not most aluminium-based packaging materials such as blister-packs for pharmaceutical pills or material used for packing coffee for consumers. The secret behind the new discovery is ALD (Atomic Layer Deposition).
ALD coatings are thin, conformal and pinhole-free and they closely follow the contours of the coated objects allowing the use of porous materials such as cardboard or fiber-structured bio-polymers. The thickness of ALD coatings can be adjusted to the accuracy of one atomic layer. Thanks to the thinness of the film ((approx. 25 nm; the diameter of a typical human hair is 80,000nm), the protective layer is bendable and flexible. Thin bio-based packaging materials produced using this technology have gas permeability properties similar to those of existing dry food packages and pharmaceutical blister packs.
Picosun Oy, Finland-based global manufacturer of state-of-the-art Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) systems designed and provided the ALD reactor, which enabled the challenging R&D behind the new material.
"VTT procured Picosun's ALD equipment with the specific aim to obtain a reactor with qualities which allow reliable study of thin films for fibers and polymers. We needed a reactor which enables regulation of layers with such immaculate precision that research can completely focus on the actual characteristics of composite materials," says Ms. Terhi Hirvikorpi, research scientist at VTT, responsible for most of the work behind the new discovery.
"Taking into consideration the scale of the layers in question one needs to be able to entirely trust the conformal perfection and repeatability of the results produced by the ALD reactor one uses. When one compares several highest quality ultra-thin barrier layers, even the smallest variations must be completely reliable all through because of the difference in characteristics these variations produce. Picosun's reactor has thus far fulfilled our rigorous standards impeccably," Terhi Hirvikorpi states.
ALD enhanced packaging materials are thinner, lighter and better sealed than traditional barrier materials. Barrier materials serve the purpose of preventing molecules from penetrating the packaging, an important feature protecting the product from humidity, drying or oxidation.
ALD technology can improve the humidity tolerance and performance of bio-polymers, reducing the need for oil-based plastics. ALD allows different functions to be integrated in the packaging material, such as properties which prevent water, oxygen, humidity, fats and aromas from filtering through the packaging and protect the surface from stains and bacterial growth. Anti-microbial, water resistant thin paper and non-sticking surfaces are also obvious possible uses of the new method Other thin film methods can also produce thin coatings; however, their gas permeability is higher. With these competing methods, comparable gas permeation resistance is possible only if thicker films are used. Thick films equal stiffer material which breaks easily.
"VTT has produced revolutionizing nano-solutions for the packaging industry, opening up the opportunity to develop new recyclable packaging materials and save the environment. For the forest industry, producing packaging material such as cardboard, nanotechnology provides an opportunity to reform and create new products based on brand new high-tech solutions that guarantee the Finnish forest cluster's competitiveness and employment in the coming decades. I am pleased and proud of VTT's confidence in us and that Picosun's ALD technology can play such an important part in this process," says Juhana Kostamo, Managing Director of Picosun.
VTT has a special place in the corporate saga of Picosun, because they were Picosun's first ever customer. VTT currently runs Picosun ALD reactors, of which the recent purchase stands for the latest results reported here.
Picosun develops and manufactures Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) reactors for micro- and nanotechnology applications. Picosun represents continuity to over three decades of ALD reactor manufacturing in Finland. Picosun is based in Espoo, Finland and has its US headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. SUNALE ALD process tools are installed in various universities, research institutes and companies across Europe, USA and Asia.
Dr. Tuomo Suntola, inventor of ALD technology, is Member of the Board of Directors of Picosun. World's most experienced ALD reactor designer Sven Lindfors is Picosun´s Chief Technology Officer and founder of the company. Picosun Oy is a part of Stephen Industries Inc Oy.