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​Nanostructured surfaces: surface-structuring know-how for a broad range of industrial applications

Nanostructured surfaces

Published on 7 May 2019

Liten’s nanostructured surfaces research focuses on three major topics:

Heterogeneous catalysis for motor exhaust gas applications

Our researchers are looking at how moving engine parts fit together and how their surfaces are structured to reduce friction for greater fuel efficiency and, in the process, limit exhaust gas emissions. Our research encompasses all aspects, including using catalysts to treat exhaust gas. Liten research is behind the new Euro 7 and Euro 8 catalytic exhaust pipes that will be introduced onto the market by 2018–2020. We have a decade of experience researching this topic.

Liten’s know-how is also driving advances in other areas, such as plasma-photocatalysis to treat air in the rail and airline industries. The traditional active charcoal filters used on board aircraft, for example, could one day be replaced by catalytic converters that would treat a much broader range of harmful emissions, with the added benefit of regeneration capacities not offered by traditional filters. Filter maintenance would be greatly reduced, and planes would be grounded less. Other promising avenues include treating air inside the passenger compartments of cars in large, densely-populated urban areas and treating air in confined spaces like submarines.

  • Reduced nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and hydrocarbon emissions as well as reduced particulate matter

  • Liten’s catalytic converters also result in more efficient use of resources; the metals used, some of the most expensive on earth (platinum, palladium, rhodium), are reduced threefold compared with the standard converters on the market

  • The technologies developed are tested and validated by measurements taken by the IFPEN transport energy institute

New materials leveraging graphene and carbon nanotubes

Graphene and carbon, both very lightweight materials, offer a unique combination of excellent electrical, technical, and mechanical properties. When used to make nanotubes, which are then assembled at a macroscopic scale, the materials’ properties are maintained. The benefits are clear for uses like cabling, where graphene and carbon nanotubes can replace aluminum and copper, both of which are expensive to extract, manufacture, and recycle. These materials save on resources and weight, a critical factor for the air transportation industry, for example. An Airbus A380 contains between 5 and 5.5 tons of cable; the equivalent in carbon nanotubes would weigh in at just 100 kg. This drastic reduction in weight would be a source of substantial energy savings and would make recycling much less costly.

Liten is currently producing carbon nanotube cables from several hundreds of meters up to a kilometer in length. These cables would be suitable for all minor aircraft cable networks; broader use will be feasible within five to ten years.

  • Carbon nanotubes are an attractive alternative for any product or market where saving on materials is crucial; carbon nanotubes can replace materials and metals that are rare, expensive, or difficult to obtain

  • The materials produced can be functionalized with new properties (sensors, etc.)

Surface structuring and treatment

Liten’s research in this area cuts across the research described above, leveraging our scientists’ knowledge of surface structuring and treatment to meet manufacturers’ needs for materials with exceptional electrical or thermal conductivity or mechanical properties.

We have a wide range of resources to structure the surfaces of all types of materials (steel, aluminum, ceramics, plastics, and textiles, for example). Our processes, carried out at the micrometric and nanometric scales, have the capacity to amplify a material’s chemical and physical properties. Some of these processes are ready for immediate industrial rollout; others—like solutions to limit contamination in air conditioning systems and cooling towers—will require substantial additional R&D before they can be scaled up. Our nanostructured thin-layer deposition processes are already showing promise as a future solution to this public health issue.

Our researchers have developed:

  • antireflective properties for solar panels to amplify the optical increase of solar irradiance on the solar cells

  • nanostructured Fresnel lenses for the concentrator-photovoltaic research department

  • surface textures for the textile industry to make hydrophilic, hydrophobic, porous, waterproof, antibacterial, and self-cleaning fabrics; some of these properties are being developed further under our research on the vehicle of the future

  • Around 20 researchers (Liten and Laboratoire Hubert Curien at Université Jean Monnet in St. Etienne)

  • ​Around 10 patents

Contact an expert to find out more