What is in this article?:
- Interview: Element Six's Adrian Wilson
- The Synthetic Advantage
Adrian Wilson, Head of Element Six's Technologies Division, discusses the firm's GaN-on-diamond technology.
NF: Element Six is actually a member of the DeBeers Group of Companies, which makes sense considering Element Six’s focus on synthetic diamond supermaterials. How does being a member of a jewelry giant help Element Six serve customers involved with electronics?
AW: Being owned by DeBeers actually puts us in a very strong position to address the semiconductor market—particularly from a commercial perspective. As you know, the adoption of new materials in the semiconductor industry can take many years. You first need to convince early adopters of the benefits of the material and then be designed in. As a consequence, owners or investors of companies participating in the semiconductor industry must be prepared to invest over a relatively long period of time before the attractive returns on investment are achieved.
One of the commercial benefits of being owned by DeBeers is its familiarity in making long-term investments. As I am sure you can appreciate, the time from starting diamond exploration to having a high-yielding mine can take many years, which is analogous to adoption times in the semiconductor industry.
DeBeers created Element Six over 50 years ago, with microwave synthetic-diamond development investment starting a little over 25 years ago. It is this tenure of investment that has allowed us to provide grades of synthetic diamond that are leading the way in thermal management for semiconductor devices.
NF: Can you explain how Element Six synthesizes diamonds?
AW: Element Six leverages its proprietary microwave chemical-vapor-deposition (CVD) process to grow synthetic diamonds from a hydrocarbon gas mixture. CVD diamond synthesis generally occurs below atmospheric pressure, typically between 1 and 200 Torr (see figure). Through CVD synthesis, we are able to tightly control growth conditions, eliminate chemical impurities, and engineer various properties into polycrystalline or single-crystal diamond material, depending upon the product specification. This ensures production of a highly consistent material with predictable properties and behavior that enables a diverse range of applications, such as heat spreaders for high-power electronics and in RF optics as exit windows for high-power gyrotrons and beam line windows.
NF: With the acquisition of Group4 Labs—a semiconductor wafer materials company and manufacturer of gallium-nitride-on-diamond (GaN-on-diamond) devices—Element Six has a chance to bring GaN-on-diamond technology into wider use. What technology and capabilities has Element Six gained with this acquisition?
AW: The acquisition of Group4 Labs (G4L) assets and intellectual property earlier this year has expanded Element Six’s semiconductor portfolio to further address defense and additional commercial applications. Specifically, we now have the ability to enable higher-performance GaN devices—resulting in smaller, faster, and higher-power electronic devices in these two market sectors.
Our GaN-on-diamond substrates enable a significant reduction in operating temperatures for packaged devices. This is especially important for manufacturers of devices and modules with high power, temperature, and frequency characteristics. With GaN-on-diamond substrates, device manufacturers can produce electronics that have longer lifespans and improved reliability due to the reduction in heat.
While Element Six initially began working with G4L back in 2003, more organizations have now discovered that GaN-on-diamond wafers can dramatically reduce semiconductor temperatures while maintaining high RF performance. We plan to further expand development efforts to meet this growing market demand for GaN-on-diamond solutions and help companies realize the numerous benefits.