The world’s energy demands are rising and the search for better power efficiency is spurring new interest in gallium nitride as a successor to silicon semiconductors. Singapore should take advantage of this trend.
If cities today are truly high-tech, why can’t we drive electric cars up to Kuala Lumpur on a single charge? Why are we tethered by a cable to a wall socket each time our smartphones run out of juice? The problem, some say, lies with silicon, the raw material of modern power electronics, because silicon is close to reaching the physical limits of Moore’s Law.
It’s not easy to grow GaN crystals on silicon wafers, which is what you want to do if the GaN-on-silicon chips are to be compatible with existing processing lines in standard silicon chip factories. In fact, very few firms in the world can do it.
Singapore’s IGSS GaN, or IGaN, is one of the few that can, says Raj Kumar, the startup’s chief executive: “Apart from TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), no other proven foundry has the know-how to build GaN-on-Si epiwafers.“ The company’s proprietary GaN-on-silicon growth recipe is the result of hundreds of millions of dollars of research by various groups in Singapore over a period of 14 years, he points out, followed by the company spending the recent six years perfecting the technology it had licensed from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, before finally bringing it to market last year.
The company is the only firm in Singapore on the GaN train right now. In the market for emerging technologies like GaN and other silicon alternatives, startups do have a good shot at being world champions, Mr Kumar believes. “Focus on emerging, next-generation technologies, not mainstream ones that follow Moore’s Law (where your competitors advance two times every 18 months). Niche technologies do not follow Moore’s Law. They take a much, much longer time to evolve to the next generation.
“Today, we (Singapore) still have a lot of strengths in semiconductors and we should not lose them. We can still use the ecosystem here for niche technology.”
Full interview piece “Silicon is reaching its limit. What’s next?” (Business Times, 4 Apr)