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UK funds Filtronic in GaN-on-silicon LED project

The UK government finally sits up and takes notice of the potential of solid-state lighting, backing a consortium including GaAs wafer manufacturer Filtronic, Qinetiq and Cambridge University to develop GaN emitters based on 6 inch silicon substrates.

The UK s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has awarded a £3 million ($5.96 million) contract to a consortium that aims to develop GaN emitters based on large-area silicon substrates.

GaAs chip manufacturer Filtronic, LED distributor Forge Europa, Qinetiq, MOCVD equipment vendor Thomas Swan and Colin Humphreys research team at Cambridge University are the five partners in the project, which will run for three years.

Compared with its counterparts in Japan, China, Korea and the US, the UK government has been relatively slow to pick up on the potential for LED-based solid-state lighting to cut energy waste, and now appears to have backed a disruptive approach that could yield low-cost chips.

The presence of Filtronic, which makes GaAs-based RFICs primarily for cellphone handsets and defense applications at its 6 inch fab, suggests that, for the first time, the UK may become a location for volume LED chip production - if the project is a success.

While virtually all commercially-available GaN LEDs are based on either sapphire or SiC substrates today, both of these base materials have drawbacks. Sapphire production has proved difficult to scale to large wafer diameters, while SiC remains relatively expensive. Cree has recently begun to switch its GaN-on-SiC LED production to a 4-inch platform, however.

On the other hand, GaN-on-silicon emitters have only been demonstrated in a laboratory setting (see related stories).

The Japanese firm Shimei Semiconductor is believed to be in the process of commercializing its own GaN-on-silicon approach at the moment, although no products are yet listed on its web site.

The UK consortium believes that its novel approach has great potential, however, saying: "The project will provide a dramatic step forward on the solid-state lighting roadmap and provide a route for the UK to enter this future major market."

"The key to adoption of the technology is cost, and this project addresses the development of low-cost solutions by exploiting large diameter substrates and the consistency of mature proven volume production in the UK."

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