May 16, 2016

Diamond on silicon chips are running at 100 Gigahertz and can also make power chips for directing 10,000 volts

Diamond computer chips running at 100-GHz have been demonstrated by Akhan Semiconductor. They are currently using design rules in the 100s of nanometers.

Developers are focusing on power applications on 12-inch wafers. They hope to drive down the costs of production with higher volumes. Power devices are moving into pilot production at a fab. They are using the fab-lite model—that is produce small- to medium-sized runs themselves. They will then transfer their process to foundries when they ramp up into volume production.

They have some customers for diamond MEMS devices—specifically for capacitive switching arrays used to dynamically tune antenna in high-end smartphones.

Akahn aims to enter the quantum computer field, but not using the nitrogen vacancy method, but rather using their own proprietary doping techniques they are keeping as a trade secret for now.

Diamond is unmatched in its ability to diffuse heat, perform as a semiconductor, and create smaller and more powerful electronics. Until now, they have been constrained by the physical limitations of silicon. Akhan's new process of manufacturing perfect diamonds out of methane gas lifts the barrier of affordability in diamond-based electronics.

At a basic level, the process is to crack the methane gas onto a heated platform using a ball of plasma. This process occurs inside of an "MPCVD" reactor. The final product is a diamond wafer which can be used as a platform for fabricating the semiconductor devices.

The company's comprehensive Miraj Diamond™ platform is at the center of AKHAN SEMI’s ability to manufacture next generation diamond semiconductor technology. The platform enables fabrication of complex devices such as high speed / power transistors, RF, and microwave electronics. The product offering within this platform consists of both passive and active semiconductor material and component device systems. The technical feasibility, process development, and device fabrication, prior to full commercialization, has been completed utilizing wafer fabrication centers at several locations in the US.



Because it costs so much to keep silicon cool, Khan says that it's already becoming cheaper to use diamond (and other similar advanced materials, called wide-bandgap semiconductors), instead. And while Akhan currently buys methane to make the diamonds from an ordinary supplier, it may eventually be possible to use wasted methane gathered from farms or other sources of pollution.

Making the diamond chips also uses 20% less water than making a comparable silicon chip.

New diamond chips could also change the type of devices that it's possible to make—like completely transparent electronics. A phone that uses a glass display (or sapphire, like the iPhone 6), could add diamonds to the display instead of using a separate circuit board.

"You're talking about thinner devices, but they're actually more useful in that you're directly displaying images from the material on the glass," he says. "It's not just that we're making existing materials better, but we're also enabling the next generation of design."

AKHAN reckon that its diamond semiconductor based technology will enable a new generation of commercial, industrial and consumer products such as flexible and transparent displays that can be used in wearables and thinner consumer devices that last longer. On the commercial side, the firm is already developing new diamond windows for industrial, defense and aerospace applications.

AKHAN's technology is based on a process that uses man-made diamond rather than silicon to produce chip materials. It is a result of the marriage of two breakthroughs: the ability to use nanocrystalline diamond (NCD) films and a new doping process the makes it possible to use NCD as a semiconductor material.

AKHAN says that it is currently actively hiring to staff its new facility, which is expected to employee 100 people in the next two years.

Sample of diamond on silicon from Akhan Semiconductor, May 3, 2016. (Source: EE Times)

Diamond is known to be the "Ultimate Wide Bandgap semiconductor material" due to its inherent properties. Its ability to conduct heat far surpasses that of materials used on current electronics (five times better than copper, 22 times better than silicon). It also has the unique ability to isolate massive voltages with a small fraction of the material required compared to present technologies. In isolating 10,000 Volts, the amount of diamond needed is 50 times less than that of silicon. These attributes present diamond to be the ideal successor technology.


Applications

Using diamond as a semiconductor material in electronics has many advantages, and two of the most prevalent applications will be inside of the diode and transistor components, both of which are used many times in almost all electronic devices.
Diodes are electronic components that allow electricity to flow one way through the circuit, preventing backflow that could disrupt or damage other components. Diodes play a major role most electronics, and almost every device charger.

Transistors are the building blocks of “logic gates,” the systems that make computers and other smart devices “smart.” Computer processors use many billions of transistors across their cores. Integrating diamond into this component will start a new age of computing technology.

While the effect of AKHAN SEMI’s diamond semiconductors will impact all industries, some of the most notable applications will include faster supercomputers, advanced radar and telecommunications, hyper-efficient hybrid vehicles, electronics in extreme environments, and next-generation aerospace and avionics.



SOURCES - EEtimes, Akhan Semiconductors, Fast co-exist, Semiconductor Today

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