Glass, Robert S. (2788 Chateau Way, Livermore, CA, 94550, US)
|1.||In a metal for producing a film by casting a preformed solution, the improving comprising: casting the preformed solution using an atomizer.|
|2.||The improvement of Claim 1, wherein using an atomizer spreads the preformed solution in a fine mist.|
|3.||The improvement of Claim 1, wherein the casting with the atomizer is carried out at room temperature.|
|4.||The improvement of Claim 1, wherein the casting of the preformed solution is carried out by spraying the preformed solution with the atomize on a heated substrate.|
|5.||The improvement of Claim 4, additionally including heating the substrate by direct heating or by blowing hot air there across.|
|6.||The improvement of Claim 1, additionally including forming the preformed solution.|
|7.||The improvement of Claim 6, wherein forming the preformed solution is carried out so as to include a solvent and dispersant for preventing agglomeration.|
|8.||The improvement of Claim 7, wherein forming the preformed solution is carried out such that solvent has a high volatility and the solution has a low viscosity.|
|9.||The improvement of Claim 7, wherein the solvent is organic.|
|10.||The improvement of Claim 7, wherein the solvent is composed of material selected from the group consisting of ethanol and methanol.|
|11.||The improvement of Claim 6, wherein forming the preformed solution is carried out by: dispersing powder to be coated in a solvent, adding a dispersant to prevent agglomeration and adding at least one of the group consisting of plasticizers and binders.|
|12.||The improvement of Claim 11, wherein the solvent of thus formed solution has a high volatility and solution has a low viscosity.|
|13.||The improvement of Claim 12, wherein said solvent is organic.|
|14.||The improvement of Claim 12, wherein said solvent is selected from the group consisting of ethanol and methanol.|
|15.||The improvement of Claim 12, wherein casting the preformed solution is carried out by the atomizer at a temperature below about 60° C.|
|16.||The improvement of Claim 15, wherein casting of the preformed solution is carried out by the atomizer by spraying a mist of the preformed solution onto a heated substrate.|
|17.||In aerosol spray casing method, comprising preparing a solution by: dispersing a powder to be coated in a solvent, adding to the solution a dispersant to prevent agglomeration, and adding at least one of the plasticizers and binders as needed to the solution, and depositing the solution onto a substrate to be coasted using an atomizer.|
|18.||The method of Claim 17, wherein the solvent is selected from the group consisting of ethanol and methanol.|
|19.||The method of Claim 17, wherein depositing the solution is carried out at a temperature below about 60° C.|
|20.||The method of Claim 17, wherein depositing the solution is carried out by spraying via the atomizer on a heated substrate.|
RELATED APPLICATION  This application relates to U. S. Provisional Application No. 60/274197 filed March 8,2001, and claims priority under 35USC120.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION  The present invention relates to the fabrication of films, particularly to a low cost method for making thick or thin films, and more particularly to a method of making films wherein a prepared solution is deposited on a substrate to be coated using an atomizer to produce films of various thickness and with flexibility.
 A number of low cost non-vacuum based thick/thin ceramic film casting techniques are readily available. These include tape casting, tape calendering, colloidal dip coating and spin coating, screen-printing, gel casting, slip casting, pressure casting, etc. All of the above techniques require somewhat similar preparations of the slips containing the ceramic powder with different additives and solvents. However, the application approach of the slip differs from one technique to another, making certain techniques more suitable for certain specific applications.
For instance, colloidal dip coating consists of dipping the substrate in the colloidal solution followed by withdrawing the substrate at constant speed. After complete evaporation of the solvent, a film is formed. There is little active control of the film thickness, the process must be done using trials and errors approach to find the right viscosity and the right solid loading in the solution in order to obtain the right film thickness. This technique is not limited by the size or shape of the substrate but there is a limit in the maximum film thickness (typically 101lu) beyond which film cracking occurs because of drying shrinkage.
 Tape casting requires the preparation of a more viscous slip and more additives such as binders, plasticizers. The slip is spread on a flat surface to a controlled thickness with the knife edge of a doctor blade, and the solvents are allowed to dry. The resulting tape, containing ceramic powders, plasticizers and binders is flexible. It can then be stripped from the casting surface, cut to size, then fired at high temperatures. Multilayer tapes are fabricated by sequential casting one layer on top of another. This technique is largely used in a number of areas including the microelectronic industry and the energy industry. Due to the use of the doctor blade, tape casting is limited to flat samples only. Also due to the use of the doctor blade that need to be kept parallel but separated from the substrate at a constant distance, tape casting is typically limited to films of thickness greater than say 50Rm.
 The present invention is a simple technique that can replace and/or complement the conventional tape casting technique while providing more flexibility with simplicity. The invention involves a method using a solution or slip similar to the prior techniques but with high volatility and lower viscosity. The method involves depositing the solution via an atomizer and upon hitting a desired substrate the solution solvent evaporates, leaving a green tape or film containing a desired powder and other additives. The spraying can be carried out at room temperature and above, and deposited on a slightly heated substrate to accelerate the evaporation of the solvent.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION  It is an object of the present invention to provide a method for producing films of various thickness.
 A further object of the invention is to provide a film forming method using an atomizer.
 A further object of the invention is to provide a method for providing flexible films of about lopm and thicker.
 A further object of the invention is to provide a method for producing flexible or non-flexible film on surfaces of various configurations.
[00111 Another object of the invention is to provide a method for producing films that can replace and/or complement the conventional tape casting technique while provide more flexibility with simplicity.
 Another object of the invention is to provide a method for producing films wherein the solution contains a powder to be coated dispersed in a volatile solvent such as ethanol, and containing other desire ingredients, and wherein the solution is sprayed on a substrate using an atomizer, and upon hitting the substrate the solvent evaporates.
 Another object of the invention is to provide an aerosol spray casting (ASC) technique for producing green flexible films, which can be punched, cut and heated.
 Another object of the invention is to provide an ASC technique which can be carried out at room temperature or at elevated temperatures below the evaporation temperature of the solvent used, and which can be carried out using heated substrates.
 Other objects and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description. The invention is directed to a method for making thin and thick films at very low cost and which films are more flexible and versatile than films produced by the conventional tape casting technique, for example. The method involves ASC and produces a green flexible film, similar to the tape casted film but with several advantages: 1. The method is not limited to flat surfaces but can be considered for use on substrates of any size and shape, such as thin film casting on tubes.
2. The method can be used to deposit much thinner films than conventional tape casting because there is no requirement of exact distance between the spray nozzle (atomizer) and the substrate. The method can be carried out at room temperature or at an elevated temperature with or without the substrate being heated. The composition of the slip or solution used may be similar to that of the conventional tape casting slip, but includes a dispersant to prevent agglomeration, and the solvent has a higher volatility and the solution or slip has a low viscosity, whereby, solution is deposited as a fine mist, and the solvent evaporates upon hitting the substrate. The method can be used in a variety of applications requiring thin or thick films, such as in the fabrication of solid oxide fuel cells, ceramic membranes, multilayer films, etc.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION  The present invention involves a method for producing thin or thick films carried out using an atomizer for depositing the film producing solution. The invention is a simple aerosol spray casting (ACS) technique that can replace and/or complement the conventional tape casting technique while providing much more flexibility with simplicity. The ASC method of this invention is not limited to flat substrates but can be used for coating substrates of any size and shape. The ASC method can deposit much thinner films than the conventional tape casting approach because there is no requirement of exact distance between the spray nozzle and the substrate to be coated. The method of this invention can be utilized to complement the tape casing techniques in applications where thick and thin films are required, with the thick film produced by tape casing and the thin film produced by ASC.
[00171 The ASC method of this invention basically involves two (2) operations.
The first is the slip or solution preparation, and the second is the deposition of the solution onto a substrate by the use of an atomizer, each operation being separately described hereinafter.
 The first operation consists of the preparation of the slip or solution to be used for a specific application. This operation is somewhat similar to solution or slip preparations for other techniques, such as tape casting, and is generally described as follows:  A desired powder to be coated is dispersed in a solvent, preferably organic.
An appropriate dispersant is added to prevent agglomeration. Plasticizers and binders are subsequently added. Typically, this slip is very similar to the slip used in tape casting, except that the solvent will have higher volatility and the solution has lower viscosity.
 The second operation is carried out to deposit the slip or solution formed in the first operation on substrate, as follows:  The solution is sprayed on a substrate to be coated using an atomizer defining ASC. The atomizer can be a pressure-based nozzle or preferably an ultrasonic device. The atomizer spreads the solution over the substrate in a fine mist. Upon hitting the substrate, the solvent evaporates, leaving a green tape container the powder and the other additives (binder, plasticizers, etc). The spraying can be done at room temperature using a very slow deposition rate to allow the solvent to evaporate. Spraying can be done using a slightly heated substrate in order to accelerate the evaporation. The temperature should never exceed the evaporation or decomposition temperature of the organic binder and plasticizers. The heating can be done either by heating directly the substrate or by blowing hot air over the substrate. Typical solvents can be ethanol or methanol, for which typical process temperatures is below 60-70° C.
 The result of this method involving ASC is a green flexible film that can be punched, cut, and/or heated (annealed) as required for its intended use. The green flexible film is very similar to tape cast films but with several advantages: 1. The ASC technique is not limited to flat samples or surfaces, but can be utilized for surfaces of any size and shape. In particular, thin film casting on tubes can be easily accomplished.
2. ASC can be used to deposit much thinner films than conventional tape casting because there is no requirement of exact distance between the spray nozzle and the substrate.
 By the way of example, the ASC method can be carried out as follows: 1. A power of is dispersed in a solvent of, a dispersant composed of is added to prevent agglomeration, a plasticizer composed of and a binder composed of are added to produce a slip or solution for forming a film of on a substrate. The solution or slip is then sprayed on a substrate, such as using a slow deposition rate (to) at room temperature, with the substrate being heated to °C. For environmental purposes, the evaporated solvent may be drawn away by. The thus produced green flexible film is then annealed or otherwise processed for its intended use.
 In many applications, the ASC is a good complement to the tape casting.
For example, for solid oxide fuel cell applications, there is a need to produce bilayers of electrode/electrolyte films. The electrode, which serves also as support of the structure, has typical thickness in the range of 100 to 1000, m. The thickness of the electrolyte is typically 10, um. It is very difficult to produce such a bilayer using tape casting because of the very thin electrolyte film. Such a bilayer must be made using other techniques such as tape calendering or a combination of tape casting to make the electrode layer followed by a screen-printing step to make the electrolyte layer.
Such a bilayer can be easily processed using tape casting to make the electrode layer followed by ASC to deposit the thin electrolyte layer. The result is a green flexible bilayer that can be punched and/or cut in different sizes. Also, the bilayer can be entirely formed by the ASC method which has the capability to produce both thick and thin films.
 It has thus been shown that the present invention enable the formation of thin and/or thick films at low cost. This simple method can replace and/or complement the conventional tape casting technique while providing more flexibility with simplicity. The method of the invention, which involves aerosol spray casting can be used for application involving any size and shape substrates, such as thin film casting on tubes. The method can be used to provide thin (-lOjim) film to thick films of several 100pu.
 While a particular embodiment of the invention has been described to exemplify and teach the principles of the invention, such is not intended to be limiting. Modifications and changes may become apparent to those skilled in the art, and it is intended that the invention be limited only by the scope of the appended claims.
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