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Reactor Start-up To Exploit Research Markets


About to fulfill its first order, Sweden start-up, Epiluvac, is ready to deliver CVD reactors to wideband gap materials developers worldwide. Compound Semiconductor reports.

With its hot wall CVD reactors, Epiluvac intends to target developers of SiC and GaN materials for solar, automotive markets and more.

Earlier this month, Sweden-based Epiluvac revealed it is to start providing silicon carbide CVD epitaxy reactors - in different configurations - to research communities around the world. While SiC Schottky diodes have long been used in power factor correction, the power semiconductors are making in-roads into solar, rail traction, UPS and automotive markets.

France-based analyst business, Yole Développement, recently reported that the SiC chip market almost reached $100 million in 2013, thanks to well-established markets. And as the likes of Infineon, Cree, Rohm, ST Microelectronics and more race to develop smaller, cheaper and more efficient diodes and transistors for these as well as growing markets, good quality materials are more important than ever.

Hot wall CVD reactors, pioneered in Sweden, at Linkőping University, are critical to the development of wide bandgap semiconductor manufacture, taking pride of place in many a research laboratory since the mid-1990s. And as Bo Hammarlund, managing director of Epiluvac, highlights, demand is rising.

"Today the business for silicon carbide mainly comes from diodes for UPSs and inverters," he says. "But we now see a driving force to improve SiC transistors, reduce costs and build powerful, reliable modules."

"I also see convincing arguments that SiC switching transistors will be adopted in the power train for the next generation of hybrid electric vehicle, battery- and fuel cell-electric vehicles, and all-electric vehicles," he adds.

So with this in mind, Hammarlund is determined to capture custom from researchers and developers of SiC materials, whom he believes his company is best placed to serve. As he highlights, Epiluvac is next to Lund University within Sweden's Kista research region, home to numerous SiC-related start-ups.

Companies include key SiC epitaxy player, Ascatron, SiC bi-polar transistor developer, TranSiC - acquired by industry heavyweight, Fairchild, in 2011 - as well as epitaxial graphene on silicon carbide supplier, GraphenSiC, advanced silicon epitaxy service provider, Nocilis Materials, and more.

Hammarlund himself has been instrumental in setting up some of these companies. As he puts it: "We will find good and interesting business in developing cutting edge CVD reactors to research and development, and small-scale production."

Bo Hammarlund, Epiluvac: "We now see a driving force to improve SiC transistors, reduce costs and build powerful, reliable modules."

And while CVD equipment heavyweight, Aixtron, also delivers hot-wall CVD tools, primarily to larger businesses, researchers and start-ups will remain Epiluvac's target market. "We're not competing with Aixtron, they are a company of 800, we are a company of eight," says Hammarlund. "Researchers really demand high quality materials that in my opinion large-scale reactors cannot provide at the moment. They also don't have the flexibility [of smaller systems] and are very expensive to run."

So what exactly is Epiluvac providing? The company has developed both single- and dual-wafer hot wall reactors, for six inch wafer diameters.

According to Hammarlund, his company's new reactor includes several new features such as separated gas lines to the SiC substrate, so the gases mix just above the substrate. As the managing director points out, this prevents nucleation of the material in the gas phase before the gases have reached the substrate.

"We also have a new design of reaction cell, which saves consumables. This, for example, keeps silicon carbide deposits on graphite [components] to a minimum, extending the active period before the user has to exchange these expensive [parts]," he adds. "And heating is resistive rather than RF-generated."

With its new technology in tow, Epiluvac plans to deliver a single-wafer six inch reactor - custom designed for experimental SiC research - to its first customer by early October. But it's not all about SiC. While the company has focused on SiC first, it is also looking at GaN markets, and intends to start designing reactors for GaN materials by the end of the year.

"The demand for GaN semiconductors will grow due to fifth generation mobile telecoms base station, which will be [reaching markets] around 2018," says Hammarlund. "So right now there is a big effort to get European industry ready to produce GaN power transistors for 10 GHz basestations."

As Hammarlund highlights, his company's reactors are modular and consist of a basic platform that can be adapted for different materials. And beyond SiC and GaN, the company has also set its sights on AlN, SiGe, graphene.

"We [will] be able to pick up new demands at an early stage not only for SiC, but also GaN, AlN and graphene," he says. "It is also our ambition to stay in close contact with our customers to customise tools for their specific needs. We have a lot of experience in doing this."

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