Emerging Markets Spark Interest at SEMICON West

Emerging Markets Spark Interest at SEMICON West

As the industry’s most diverse and international exposition, SEMICON West is always an event where semiconductor technology can be seen entering new and emerging markets. Flat panel display and photovoltaics are examples of two such markets where today’s leading manufacturing technologies, processes and products had their origins at SEMICON West. This year's Emerging Markets TechXpot continues this tradition, highlighting the latest applications and markets in advanced manufacturing. This year’s Emerging Markets TechXpot spotlights the surprising recent progress in solid-state lighting, the major advances in printed and flexible electronics, and the changing mobile energy world of thin-film batteries and energy harvesting.

Flexible printed electronics fabricate large arrays of high performance transistor devices by direct patterning of single crystals onto clean silicon surfaces. These technologies will be incorporated into a multitude of products, including clothing, health care items, displays, and more. Proponents predict, “A new electronics revolution will be launched, integrating electronics into all aspects of our lives.”

“We’re seeing a lot of evolutionary change and hybrid approaches,” said Kevin Cammack, director of technical marketing and industry development for the U.S. Display Consortium (San Jose, California), noting technologies ranging from modifying standard vapor deposition to use on new clear plastic substrates to ink jetting new organic semiconductor contacts onto fabricating traditional single-crystal silicon solar cells. Also driving some current interest is the inherent “greenness” of the printing approach, with its smaller bill of goods, less exotic materials and lower energy consumption.

“The $100B display industry is going to be the big driver, especially for hybrid technologies designed to take advantage of the existing $120B in fully depreciated manufacturing capacity to make lower cost or lower power displays,” he said, noting that most of the new technologies coming online for flat panel displays (FPDs) are inherently flexible, and progress is being made on many fronts. New developments include clear flexible substrates that can be processed at up to 350°C without softening or hazing, and new processes that allow transistor deposition at temperatures as low as 300°C.

Solid State Lighting

Solid-state lighting technology has made impressive gains in recent years as electricity costs soar and LED cost and efficiency improve. The LED market jumped 60% in 2007 to $330M, according to Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, California), which projects a $1.4B market by 2012. Robert Steele, director, optoelectronics, for Strategies Unlimited states, “Light per LED package has doubled in the past two years, while cost has gone down 10% or so, so we’re getting more than twice the lumens per dollar. It’s not a stretch to see 10× more light output within five years, for a 10× decrease in cost.”

Makers of solid-state lighting have improved light output markedly over the past two years, particularly for cool white light. (Source: Strategies Unlimited)

Cree LED Lighting Solutions (Morrisville, North Carolina) is growing rapidly, powered by sales of its recessed downlight fixture that claims to put out the equivalent of a 65 W incandescent bulb while using only 12 W. CTO Gerry Negley, however, sees more need for progress in manufacturing technology.

“We haven’t found the right chip or package yet,” Negley said. “The LED community is just starting to understand what the lighting community needs.” He sees the key issues as developing better drivers to convert down to the low 3 V level needed for the LEDs and better encapsulants that don’t optically degrade in light and heat. “With most materials, we know how they behave with temperature, but we don’t know how they behave with light,” he said, noting that the LED operating conditions are far more severe than those for photovoltaics. “It’s a question of finding the right polymer engineers and making them understand the problem.”

LED Yields remain a problem, noted Steele, as the chips vary by wavelength, light output and voltage, and then they’re topped with a squirt of phosphor in epoxy that adds even more variability—leaving a lot of chips that don’t meet standards on one of the three measures.

Thin Film Batteries and Energy Harvesting

Energy harvesting is increasingly applied to devices that convert ambient or kinetic energy into electrical energy, attracting much interest in both the military and commercial sectors. Scavenging energy from ambient vibrations, heat or light could enable devices to extend battery life, even function indefinitely.

The construction industry is starting to replace copper with silicon, and that’s just one of the potentially big applications for wireless electronics, powered by energy harvesting, argued Jeff Shepard, president of the Darnell Group (Corona, California). Darnell forecasts sales of more than 200 million units for energy harvesting and thin-film batteries over the next 24 months, primarily driven by wireless connections and energy harvesting replacing power and signal wiring in buildings. The economics are compelling. Shepard noted the example of a recent warehouse that installed a wireless system instead of traditional copper wiring and saved $70,000 in material cost and a week in installation time. “And that’s using today’s relatively expensive batteries and harvesting technologies that are just starting production,” he said, “before the typical cost reduction of silicon with volume.” Wireless building security and energy management systems are already in common use in Europe, he noted.

Making real inroads in commercial applications of energy harvesting is the Siemens spin-off EnOcean GmbH (Oberhaching, Germany), with its wireless light switches and sensors now reportedly installed in more than 10,000 buildings, primarily for cost savings in commercial projects in Europe. “The goal is wireless controls,” said applications engineering manager Eugene You. “And that means no wire for power either and no battery.”

Also key to enabling innovative wireless applications are tiny thin-film batteries that can be embedded into tiny spaces, and perhaps continually trickle charge with tiny amounts of harvested energy.

Thin-film battery. (Source: IPS)

2. Thin-film battery. (Source: IPS)

Infinite Power Solutions (Golden, Colorado) said it plans to start commercial production of its thin-film batteries in 3Q08, initially for wireless sensors for semiconductor test wafers and military applications. The sturdy postage stamp-sized batteries withstand heat and pressure so that they can be directly laminated into smart cards or embedded into PCBs or chip packages. Although the tiny battery also has a tiny 0.7 mAhr capacity, it can be recharged thousands of times with tiny charges and has a minimal self-discharge rate of 1 percent per year.

“We’re using common thin-film deposition technology, but with foreign materials,” said CTO Bernd Neudecker. “And we need different handling of materials within the chamber and RF-compatible chambers.” But ramping volume production is going to take volume suppliers. “If we’re going to be making 100 million batteries for the Samsungs and Motorolas of the world, we’re going to need the equipment vendors and target manufacturers to do 100 million square inches a year,” he added. “We really need the big boys playing here. It’s up for grabs, folks. Who wants to step up?”

Taking a different approach for its tiny flat battery is Solicore Inc. (Lakeland, Florida), which uses a polymer matrix electrolyte for the core of its flexible 3 V lithium thin-film battery, which it is producing in volume for the powered card market. The company uses a roll-to-roll process, coating on an electrode material, overcoating the electrode with a polymer electrolyte separator, adding the anode, folding over the sheet to encase the anode, punching out units of the desired size, and laminating them in aluminum foil. “Our capacity is 2 million units per month and we’re now flat out, 24 hours a day and in the midst of expansion,” said CEO David Corey. “We have seen tremendous demand for our Flexion batteries in 2008, and we currently have orders well into 2009. We’re currently expanding to double our capacity to 4 million units per month by the end of 2009.”

Speakers from Solicore, Infinite Power Corp., EnOcean, Cree LED Lighting Solutions, Darnell Group, USDC, Strategies Unlimited, and other organizations will be speaking at the Emerging Markets TechXpot at SEMICON West. For addition information, visit www.semiconwest.com