AMAT gives funding, process help to solid-state lighting startup

by James Montgomery, News Editor

A new round of financing for Group IV Semiconductor Inc., an Ottawa-based startup developing silicon-based solid-state light emitters, comes with a twist: support from Applied Materials’ VC arm and a promise to work together to get the company’s technology to a cost-effective production model within two years.

“We need two years more work to get to a product,” Stephen Naor, CEO, told WaferNEWS. “This funding will get us there,” including everything from R to D and manufacturing as well as day-to-day operations.

Group IV’s technology involves a solid-state light engine utilizing a single-chip, AC-powered, silicon-based process, with what it calls a “unique materials system” to provide high-efficiency, long-life lighting that it says outperforms incandescent, compact fluorescent and fluorescent lighting. “Silicon is traditionally not regarded as a good light emitter,” explained Howard Tweddle, director of business development. “We cause the silicon to create light efficiently.” Building on a silicon base instead of compound semiconductors like LEDs makes the device cost-effective, and in two years the firm wants to achieve around 40-50 lumens/watt at an “affordable” price point that makes them competitive with regular or compact fluorescent bulbs, Naor said.

The trick in getting those costs down is finding a way to reduce manufacturing costs, and that’s where Applied Materials comes in. “We talk to people interested in investing in solid-state lighting,” Naor said, and Group IV quickly realized that Applied — one of many semiconductor industry firms actively looking at other markets outside traditional chipmaking — could help not only with financial support but also helping the company’s product development to reduce cost. “From our perspective, they’re the leaders in manufacturing processes in the silicon space,” Naor said. “That’s critical to us — we need to make sure to not only design a product that works well, but that the manufacturing process is low-cost.”

The two firms have yet to hammer out details of their joint work, though Naor noted that the main goal is to leverage AMAT’s process knowledge (e.g. how to set up a factory line, what steps go in what order, etc.) and make sure certain design features are put together at the lowest cost. Group IV’s processes are pretty standard even in prototypes — “we’re not talking about new equipment here,” Naor said. Tweddle elaborated that the company lays down layers of thin films in a controlled fashion (“PECVD is what we use now”), and the geometries are noncritical, “making a die maybe several mm on a side.” –J.M.


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