Established in 2014, the Newton-Ungku Omar Fund is a science and innovation partnership between the UK and Malaysia aimed at promoting the prosperity and wellbeing of the Malaysian people through fundamental and translational research, as well as capacity building activities.
Malaysia has set out a Green Technology Master Plan, which details its aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, where transportation is one of six key sectors. This IMAT experiment supports this, focussing on the weak link in the electronics needed for electric vehicles: the solder joints.
The team's research focusses on developing new soldering materials for use in electric vehicles. Conventional solder materials contain lead, which is toxic, but replacing them with materials that can withstand the high temperatures in an electric vehicle is challenging.
In collaboration with Professor Mohd Mustafa Al Bakri Abdullah, the group have developed a composite material that embeds a ceramic within the solder material. The ceramic they are using, unusually, only requires low temperatures during manufacture, but the composite solder is robust even at the high temperatures that would be seen in its application.
These new composite materials should be more resistant to cracking over a long time operating in the harsh environment inside a vehicle, enabling longer lifetimes and reducing the energy and materials required to produce the electronics.
Thanks to the ability of neutrons to study the lighter elements inside the ceramic material, they offer the ideal solution for studying the materials on their own and combined with metal in a solder material. This is the first time they have visited ISIS, although during the Covid-19 lockdown, they were able to send some samples for beamline scientists Anna Fedrigo and Winfried Kockelmann to measure. These measurements showed the different pore sizes formed inside the ceramic caused by different production temperatures.
During the current experiment, they hope to continue their study into the effect of different fabrication methods on the structure of the ceramic, as well as looking at the solder material both with and without the ceramic embedded within it.
As well as gaining Newton funding for their ISIS experiment, the group are also part of a COP'26 trilateral research agreement between the British Council, Japan and Malaysia through the project Go-GREEN: next generation solder materials for power electronics and green electric transport. Through these funding streams, they have been able to support two PhD students as well as a postdoctoral researcher. They also work closely with industry through a collaboration with Nihon Superior Co. Ltd., a large Japanese soldering company that aims to develop new solder alloys.
“This experiment is just the beginning!" says Dr Salleh. “We hope to build on these tomography experiments and return to expand the research. As IMAT's diffraction capabilities come online, this will also be a very useful combined experimental method for investigating our materials."
Left to right: Dr Anna Fedrigo, Nur Syahirah Mohamad Zaimi, Dr Mohd Arif Anuar Mohd Salleh, Professor Mohd Mustafa Al Bakri Abdullah, Pilomeena Arokiasamy, Dr Winfried Kocklemann