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Michigan State Startup, Scion Plasma LLC, Awarded $1 M in U.S. Solar Manufacturing

Developing a single beam ion source technology for efficient manufacturing of transparent conductive thin films

November 11, 2019, East Lansing, MI – Scion Plasma LLC announced that it was selected to receive a $1,000,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to advance innovations in solar manufacturing. This project will develop a linear single beam ion source enhanced sputtering technology to enable efficient deposition of transparent conductive indium-tin-oxide (ITO) thin films for advanced solar modules.

The single beam ion source enhances the sputtering magnetron discharge to produce high quality ITO films at high deposition rates and room temperature. This high throughput process cannot be achieved with conventional sputtering technologies widely used in today’s solar manufacturing.

“This SETO project aims to double the throughput of ITO film production and greatly reduce the CapEx and OpEx costs of solar manufacturing”, said Principal Investigator Dr. Maheshwar Shrestha.

Ion sources are plasma generation devices that enable ion beams to interact with materials at the atomic level as they are deposited to effectively produce densely packed thin-films with tunable morphology, low electrical resistivity, high optical transmittance, and superior stability. An optimum ion energy is desirable for processing a specific thin film efficiently, however, conventional ion sources either generate ions with energies too high or are incompatible with reactive gases. Scion Plasma’s ion sources can create ions with a tunable energy over a wide range of 20 to 250 eV and are compatible with reactive gases. The resulting ITO films can have excellent crystallinity even when deposited at higher rates.

“The ion source enhanced sputtering is particularly suitable for fabricating transparent conductive thin films on heat-sensitive materials, such as organic solar cells”, said Prof. Lunt from Michigan State University, a collaborator in this SETO project.

Scion Plasma LLC was selected as a part of the Solar Energy Technologies Office Fiscal Year 2019 funding program, an effort to invest in new projects that will lower solar electricity costs, while working to boost solar manufacturing, reduce red tape, and make solar systems more resilient to cyberattack. Scion Plasma LLC is one of several manufacturing innovation projects with early-stage product ideas that can lower solar costs and rapidly achieve commercialization, with an emphasis on projects that contribute to a strong U.S. solar manufacturing sector. Upon lab-scale validating of the single beam ion source enhanced sputtering through this SETO project, the team will work with leading solar manufacturers and vacuum equipment manufacturers to commercialize this innovative technology. In addition to solar applications, the single beam ion sources can be used for manufacturing a broad variety of thin films, such as wear-resistant coatings, thin-film batteries, and barrier coatings.

About Scion Plasma LLC

Scion Plasma LLC is a startup company spun out from Michigan State University (MSU). Scion Plasma provides advanced plasma sources for materials processing. The single beam ion source is invented by Scion Plasma’s CTO, Dr. Qi Hua Fan, a professor at MSU. Scion Plasma is partnered with MSU and Fraunhofer to execute the DOE project. Dr. Richard Lunt is an endowed professor at MSU and co-founder of Ubiquitous Energy Inc. with expertise in emerging photovoltaic devices. Fraunhofer is a Germany based applied research institute, which bridges the gap between scientific research and industry. Fraunhofer USA Center for Coatings and Diamond Technologies has been working closely with Scion Plasma to develop the single beam ion sources.

About the Solar Energy Technologies Office

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office supports early-stage research and development to improve the affordability, reliability, and performance of solar technologies on the grid. Learn more at