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.
The Synthetic Advantage
NF: Thanks to the heat dissipation of synthetic diamond, GaN-on-diamond technology is supposed to help electronic OEMs meet the usual goals—“smaller, faster, and higher-power electronic devices.” Can you provide any performance metrics or other details and tell us how they relate to competitive approaches?
AW: Synthetic diamond spreads heat five times better than existing materials, such as copper or silicon carbide. Element Six’s GaN-on-diamond substrates enable extremely rapid, efficient, and cost-effective heat extraction—reducing the operating temperatures of packaged chips to mitigate heat issues that account for more than 50% of all electronic failures (according to a US Air Force Report).
Additionally, earlier this year, TriQuint Semiconductor, Inc. (a customer of G4L) achieved a new performance milestone with its GaN-on-diamond, high-electron mobility transistors (HEMTs). Using GaN-on-diamond technology, TriQuint designed devices to achieve up to a three-fold improvement in heat dissipation versus GaN-on-SiC while preserving RF functionality. This achievement would translate into a potential reduction of the power-amplifier size or an increase in output power by a factor of three.
NF: What impact do you expect these innovations to have for high-power applications in sectors like commercial and defense?
AW: When implemented within power amplifiers, microwave, and millimeter-wave circuits, GaN-on-diamond systems pose numerous benefits. For example, we expect to see new generations of GaN-on-diamond devices that are much smaller than today’s products. With TriQuint’s recent achievements, we also are just starting to unlock the true potential of GaN-on-diamond semiconductors to realize its widespread impact on the ecosystem as a whole. We expect to further develop the material’s potential with dedicated R&D efforts.
NF: What new capabilities and applications will be supported by GaN-on-diamond devices in the near term (say five years)? And beyond?
AW: Beyond implementation within power amplifiers, microwave, and millimeter-wave circuits, GaN-on-diamond systems will be deployed in cellular base stations, radar sensing equipment, weather and communications satellite equipment, and the inverters and converters typically used in hybrid and electronic vehicles. The ability to operate at higher power or reduce system footprint—enabled by GaN-on-diamond—will enable lower costs and lighter and more reliable power systems.
NF: Group4 has been an integral part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Near Junction Thermal Transport (NJTT) program. How has participation in that program helped Group4 to advance its capabilities?
AW: G4L has had the opportunity to work alongside amazing partners in a collective and collaborative fashion. DARPA has been instrumental in creating a vision for the requirements of power-management systems of the future and translating that into highly focused research programs, such as NJTT. This vision has enabled G4L to develop substrates that will be relevant to power-device manufacturers’ roadmaps for many years to come.
NF: Recently, Element Six expanded its global manufacturing capabilities of microwave CVD synthetic diamond by 60%. The goal is to accommodate rapid growth in both the semiconductor and optical markets. Which specific production areas are you boosting—and in which locations?
AW: We have expanded our manufacturing capacity worldwide—specifically at our high-volume manufacturing facilities in Santa Clara, CA, and Ascot, UK—the latter of which is the world’s largest CVD diamond manufacturing site. Over the last two years, Element Six has achieved a 30% increase in our bookings’ compound annual growth. In addition, most of our growing manufacturing demands have been driven by new synthetic-diamond applications in the semiconductor industry. With that said, we are looking to increase production in three key areas: CVD diamond thermal material, synthetic diamond optical windows, and GaN-on-diamond wafers.
We are seeing rising interest from packaging designers and manufacturers as the industry acknowledges the numerous properties and benefits of synthetic diamond. For instance, our synthetic-diamond optical windows are enabling advancements in extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) as the semiconductor industry continues to extend “Moore’s Law.” Element Six’s large CVD synthetic diamond windows (71 to 80 mm in diameter) can withstand the power levels necessary to produce EUV light in high-volume manufacturing scenarios, helping to reduce system downtime and improve wafer throughput.
NF: The firm also opened its Global Innovation Centre in Harwell near Oxford, England, which is truly state of the art. Can you share a little bit about that center and the work that will go on there?
AW: There were two objectives for this facility: to create a world-class R&D site that fosters a collaborative environment for our customers, and to support the rapid development of synthetic diamond and related supermaterial products. Furthermore, the GIC will serve to consolidate and strengthen Element Six’s innovation capabilities with facility features like modeling and design, materials preparation, a high-pressure high-temperature synthesis press hall, CVD reactor synthesis labs, post-synthesis processing (for polishing, cutting, and shaping), materials analysis/characterization, and end application testing.