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Making Wafers in Space?

Making Wafers in Space?
by Bill Jewell on 10-14-2014 at 7:00 am

The Albuquerque Journal had an article about a local company sending silicon carbide wafers into suborbital space to improve their quality. ACME Advanced Materials plans to buy low quality $250 wafers, send them into space using their process, and sell the higher quality wafers for about $750. They are working to add gallium nitride wafers to their process. Below is president Rich Glover.

ACME has a current capacity of 250 four-inch wafers per month. They plan to ramp up to 1000 wafers per month in three months and 5000 in six months. The company also plans to eventually move to 300mm wafers. ACME has been sending wafers into orbit since last spring using an unnamed company in Texas. ACME is funded by Cottonwood Technology Fund of New Mexico and Panega Ventures of Canada.

The article is at: http://www.abqjournal.com/478890/biz/made-in-space.html

Silicon carbide and gallium nitride wafers are key materials for wide bandgap semiconductors. Wide bandgap devices can operate at higher voltages, frequencies and temperatures than traditional silicon or gallium arsenide devices. According to the U.S. Department of Energy wide bandgap devices are important to saving energy in improving performance in power electronics, solid-state lighting, industrial motors, DC/AC power conversion, power transmission, electric vehicles and optical electronics. The DOE and private investors plan to spend $140 million over the next five years to fund a consortium in North Carolina on next generation power electronics. Wide bandgap devices will be a key focus of the consortium. The DOE article is at: http://www.manufacturing.gov/docs/wide_bandgap_semiconductors.pdf

A recent report from The Information Network projects the wide bandgap semiconductor market will reach $500 million by 2017 from $150 million in 2013. Another report from Markets and Markets project the silicon carbide semiconductor market will reach $3 billion by 2020. IMS Research (now part of IHS) in 2013 projected the overall market for wide bandgap power semiconductors would be about $2.8 billion in 2022, with about $1 billion from gallium nitride and $1.8 billion from silicon carbide.

The Applied Power Electronics Conference and Exposition (APEC) held in Fort Worth in March 2014 featured numerous sessions on wide bandgap devices. I attended part of the conference. Sessions on wide bandgap devices were featured under the topics of high power industrial, DC-DC converters, and vehicle power electronics. APEC feature six presentations during a three hour session on wide band gap devices. The market is attracting current players in power semiconductors as well as startups. These companies include: ABB, Agilent, Avago Technologies, CREE, Efficient Power Conversion, Fairchild Semiconductor, Genesis Semiconductor, Infineon, International Rectifier (which is being acquired by Infineon), Microsemi, Nortsel AB, OSRAM Opto Semiconductors, Panasonic, Renesas Electronics, ROHM, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments, Transphorm, and TriQuint Semiconductor.

For you process junkies, Microsemi and Digi-Key have released a paper on gallium nitride versus silicon carbide. The paper covers process technologies in detail. The paper sees gallium nitride primarily being used in lower power, lower voltage, high frequency applications and silicon carbide mostly used in high power and high voltage applications. The paper is available at: http://www.digikey.com/Web%20Export/Supplier%20Content/Microsemi_278/PDF/Microsemi_GalliumNitride_VS_SiliconCarbide.pdf?redirected=1

The wide bandgap semiconductor market certainly bears watching in the next few years. Any power semiconductor company not investigating this technology needs to find a partner who is.

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