Breakthrough process for metallic coatings: Adlershof start-up ORELTECH GmbH develops conductive inks and fluids

25. February 2020

Breakthrough process for metallic coatings

Adlershof start-up ORELTECH GmbH develops conductive inks and fluids

Konstantin Livanov, Natalia Zamoshchik, ORELTECH © WISTA Management GmbH

Konstantin Livanov and Natalia Zamoshchik show silver inks printed on paper © WISTA Management GmbH

ORELTECH GmbH, a young start-up, develops conductive inks and fluids, which can built into inkjet printers. The start-up has developed a procedure that also allows much finer metallisation techniques, for example, platinum on fuel cell membranes. The Adlershof-based founders now have their sights on not one but several mass markets.

‘Everything started with a bad back,’ says Natalia Zamoshchik. This is only partially true. Before she incapacitated her back for six months in 2014, the chemist from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot (Israel) had already specialised in organic electronic materials and their application in thin film processes. However, the forced break mentioned above led her straight to the executive chair of her start-up Oreltech at the Innovation and Start-up Centre (IGZ) in Adlershof, its new headquarters.

But let us start at the beginning. During her period of recovery, Zamoshchik focused on further education, read journal articles, and, while digressing into the world of anorganic precious metals, had an idea for producing conductive inks and fluids without the then-common addition of metallic nanoparticles. Back at the lab, she tested her approach. It worked. ‘After telling my friend Zvi Shteingart, who has founded several start-ups, about the whole thing, and debating possible applications and market potential, everything went really fast,’ she remembers. Shteingart helped her with the many practicalities and the funding involved with starting a new business – and was also the CEO of Oreltech for a short time.

One year later, in early 2017, another Weizmann Institute colleague joined the team: Konstantin Livanov, whose research focus was on surface chemistry and composite and nanomaterials. Together they joined the 2017 Advanced Materials Competition (AdMaCom), a two-week accelerator programme of the Innovation Network for Advanced Materials Berlin – and won first prize. ‘We saw that many were very interested in our technology – and that Germany, being a significant industrial location, especially in chemistry, gave us a better foundation for starting a company than Israel,’ says Livanov. Once they had found a fitting lab and office space at the IGZ, moving to Berlin was a mere technicality.

From there, Oreltech aims at breaking into four major markets by 2023. The founders’ optimism is a result of the overwhelmingly positive response to their approach. Before the start-up came up with its economically and environmentally superior shortcut, the industry used complex synthesis processes for nanoparticles and costly additives to prevent the metal particles from clumping and clogging the delicate nozzles of inkjet printers. In printed electronics manufacturing, solvent vapours and energy-intensive drying processes were commonplace. ‘We only need one work step to produce our conductive inks, which can also be transparent. A precursor during the printing and coating process reacts and creates the desired metal film,’ says Zamoshchik. Instead of metals that are atomised at the nano-level, the start-up uses silver, platin and gold inks that are applied layer by layer in turn with polymers, which dry quickly, and can be applied cold. The polymers serve a double purpose as active materials or isolators. Without providing too much detail, she says that the ‘ionic metal additives’ they use are so small that, when using appropriate printing technology, they can achieve much finer conductive paths than the now possible 100 µm.

The inkjet process enables the printing of transparent conductive paths on touch displays, OLEDs, and flexible solar cells, or integrated circuits on two and three-dimensional surfaces like paper or 3D chips, aircraft fuselage, or dashboards. According to Livanov, their ion inks are also capable of applying expensive precious metals like platinum and gold much thinner – and, with that, saving materials – than in previous thin-film processes. ‘One of the potential applications is the platinum coating of fuel cell membranes,’ he says. The founders are confident about their chances on the market because they can adjust their procedure to a range of metals and various printing and coating processes. Their network is growing, especially in Adlershof, but also all over Germany. ‘We have interesting contacts to customers and universities and have gotten to know many of the local founders – now we want Oreltech to grow rapidly,’ says the founder. In her case, it seems like the back pain really paid off.

By Peter Trechow for Adlershof Journal

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