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Diamond chips oust saphhire for semicon ICs

Posted: 17 May 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Akhan Semiconductor  diamond  MEMS  Adam Kahn  CMOS 

The company's ultimate goal is to revitalise the processor race with faster and faster clock rates, but for now they are concentrating on power electronics for industry, tunable optical military applications for countermeasures, and optical mobile consumer applications using diamond as the insulator and semiconductor, but still requiring indium tin oxide (ITO) for contacts (for now).

After banking some successful applications for angel investors and private equity firms who have provided Akahn's research and development capitol so far (to the tune of about $2.5 million). Akahn plans to announce Series A funding later this year, prompting them to come out of the closet at this time to attract a little attention about the possibilities that diamond semiconductors hold.

"We are not developing our mobile and consumer platform yet. For now our major application is power electronics that is more heat efficiency, but which works just like silicon devices, using the same lithograph, etching and metallisation steps, just adding the diamond deposition step," Kahn said.

But its ultimate goal is to take-the-heat-off (literally) of Big Data applications with ultra-cool-running processors. In fact, the high speeds capable of diamond CMOS is traded off against heat. In other words, data centres could cut their heat vastly, by running diamond processor at the same 5GHz of silicon, or could bump up their speed to the sub-terahertz range while consuming the same power as silicon.

Diamond on silicon

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

"Heat is our major issue, half of big data energy today is wasted just keeping its silicon processors cool," Kahn added. "Diamond is next obvious step because it is much more energy efficient. It can also be deposited on glass and sapphire to make completely transparent electronics, for consumer applications, such as transparent mobile devices."

Extending Moore's Law?

Moore's Law will also be extended, yet again, according to Kahn, since the 100GHz demonstration chips it is showing now use design rules in the 100s of nanometres. That leaves almost a dozen generations of shrinkage before diamond faces the single-atom levels the silicon is facing circus 2025.

"Today we are focusing on power applications on 12in wafers, hoping to drive down the costs of production with higher volumes," Kahn stated. "Our power devices are moving into pilot production at our own fab, but we are using the fab-lite model, that is produce small- to medium-sized runs ourselves, then transferring our process to foundries when we ramp up into volume production."

Besides power devices, Akahn also claimed to have fledgling customers for diamond MEMS devices, specifically for capacitive switching arrays used to dynamically tune antenna in high-end smartphones.

Board with diamond heat sinks

Figure 4: Sample board with diamond heat sinks (a chip can sit directly on top of a heat sink). (Source: EE Times)

Next, besides mobile and data-centre processors, 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.

- R. Colin Johnson
  EE Times

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