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Green Investments: Supporting Green Chemistry Innovations

EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program helps bring green chemistry benefits to the marketplace.

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Smart phones and text messaging help people stay in touch from virtually anywhere, portable GPS units keep us from getting lost, and MP3 players allow commuters to ride the rails with an entire music collection tucked away in a hip pocket. The proliferation of small, portable electronic devices has sparked profound changes in the ways people work, travel, and communicate.

But what about the unseen costs of such convenience? The manufacture of microelectronic devices relies on thin film coatings such as electroplating, which often come with significant negative environmental effects.  “Electroplating, for example, uses toxic chemicals and generates significant process waste and water pollution. Chemical vapor deposition (CVD) employs toxic gaseous organic precursors,” reports EPA (see Advanced Thin Film Coating for Electroplating Metals (PDF) (2 pp, 146KB) ).   

With the support of EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), Jet Process Corporation (JPC) of North Haven, Connecticut has developed environmentally-friendly, clean coating process alternatives it markets to leading manufacturers of microelectronics, as well as semiconductor packaging, advanced sensors, solid-state lighting, optoelectronics, telecommunications, and other high-tech components.

The SBIR Program was established in 1982 to ensure that a significant part of the federal government’s research and development efforts are conducted by small, high-tech, innovative businesses.  EPA, one of 11 government agencies with SBIR programs, issues annual solicitations to provide incentive funding to small science and technology businesses like JPC interested in translating their innovative ideas into commercial products that address environmental problems.

EPA has funded promising projects in the areas of drinking water, greenhouses gases, air pollution monitoring and control, green building, sustainable use of biomass, waste monitoring, homeland security, and others. More recently, the Agency’s focus has turned increasingly toward sustainability-related technologies and methods.

“Promoting green production processes in key manufacturing sectors is an important focus going forward,” notes April Richards, Manager of EPA’s SBIR program. JPC was the first company Richards mentions when asked to name an Agency-supported company that has brought green chemistry results to the marketplace.  The Jet Vapor Deposition™ (JVD™) process designed by the company exemplifies green chemistry’s goal to develop novel production methods that eliminate toxic waste streams and conserve energy. 

The JVD™ process offers a pollution-free method for connecting very small electronic components, such as memory chips employed in sophisticated microelectronics. The process works by allowing high-rate deposition of any solder on photo-resistant materials. JVD™ vaporizes wire normally used as solder completely into atoms, which then are carried by sonic inert gas carrier jets and deposited to target areas. Various material sources can be fed into the process, in sequence or together, creating layered structures or alloys of multiple metals to suit the requirements of new technologies.

According to Dr. Bret Halpern, Director of Research at JPC, electronic integrated circuits can now be made “by direct reaction of oxygen with the vaporized metal, so there is nothing toxic involved. Our process is useful anytime a small chip or circuit element needs to be soldered to an integrated circuit, often on very small scales.”

JVD™ can be developed for a wide range of systems for low- and high-volume production. One such application of this green innovation is a coating service for lead-free solders. Halpern also acknowledged EPA’s support for methods that are important to the company’s current platinum nanotechnology work.

In addition to noting JPC, April Richards says that EPA’s SBIR Program funds other, similar projects, such as nanotechnology-based coatings for environmentally preferable dry machining, a carbon dioxide-based metal deposition for microelectronics applications, and light-curable coatings.

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