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New Fraunhofer cluster of excellence to develop 20kW ultrafast lasers by 2022

Partners of the new Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence 'Advanced Photon Sources' met for the kick-off meeting at AKL in Aachen. (Credit: Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany / M. Conrad-Franzen)

Fraunhofer has launched a new cluster of excellence across 12 of its institutes that over the next four years will develop a generation of ultrafast lasers with average powers ranging up to 20kW.

The proposed systems, which will surpass all previous ultrafast lasers in average power by one order of magnitude, could enable high-throughput micro-processing applications – such as the functionalisation of surfaces – on the macro scale.

The new cluster ‘Advanced Photon Sources’, was officially announced at the international laser congress AKL’18 in Aachen, Germany, at the beginning of May. It is being led by Fraunhofer institutes ILT and IOF – where two dedicated application laboratories will be set up in 2018 – and also includes institutes FEP, IAF, IIS, IKTS, IMWS, ISE, ISIT, ITWM, IWM and IWS. The cluster will have a budget of around 10 million euros for the first three years.

‘With twelve institutes, we are stepping up to the challenge of developing a new laser generation and demonstrating applications for industry and research,’ said Professor Dr Reinhart Poprawe, director of Fraunhofer ILT and the new cluster. ‘Together we target the development of a disruptive technology that will help expanding the applications for laser technology significantly – from the scaling of ultraprecise manufacturing processes to the development of new pulse duration and wavelength ranges for research.’

With average powers slightly under 2kW already currently achievable at the ILT in the sub-picosecond range, according to Poprawe, in two years’ time the cluster plans to have developed ultrafast lasers with 5kW average power, with the ultimate goal being to reach 20kW by 2022. ‘There are no physical laws between us and this aim, so it should be possible to demonstrate this,’ he remarked during the cluster’s announcement at AKL.

In addition to developing the new powerful lasers, the cluster will also explore their potential applications in industry, for example the micro-structuring and surface functionalisation of solar cells, ultra-hard ceramics and battery components, or the cutting of glass and lightweight materials. Such processes are not currently economical using the 100W-class ultrafast lasers available today due to insufficient processing speeds.

During the AKL announcement it also was described by Poprawe that through the use of innovative multispot technology – in which a diffractive optical element or spatial light modulator can be used to split a single, powerful laser beam into a large array of multiple beams with less pulse energy – the new lasers will be able to process larger surface areas of materials at increased throughputs without inducing thermal damage.

This could lead to applications such as equipping wind turbines with functional surface structures that prevent the build-up of ice and insects on their blades – both of which have been proven to reduce the efficiency of the turbines. Other possibilities include drilling billions of holes into the aerofoils of aeroplanes in order to reduce drag during flight, creating antimicrobial surfaces on ship hulls to prevent the attachment of large quantities of algae.

The new cluster also plans to generate coherent radiation down to the soft x-ray range – with photon fluxes two to three orders of magnitude higher than those previously reached. Additionally, in the field of materials science, the cluster aims to establish applications such as the generation and investigation of novel materials. New opportunities are also expected to arise in biological imaging, the semiconductor industry and in lithography thanks to the new cluster.

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