Lux’s vision is to build the first ubiquitous flexible semiconductor platform, a Wafer 2.0. The birth of the modern electronics industry was largely predicated on a breakthrough in crystal growth, the Czochralski (CZ) method. The technique paved the way for the silicon wafer, a semiconductor platform used in over ninety-five percent of electronic devices today. However, the electronics industry is now entering a new era, one that demands ultra-thin and flexible devices with more functionality and at lower cost. The silicon wafer is thick, fragile, size restricted, and expensive and can no longer meet all modern demands. By leveraging a century of innovations in bulk crystal growth, and applying them to low cost thin-films, Lux will deliver a new class of flexible semiconductor substrates to serve as the next generation platform. With single crystal-like properties at price points significantly below existing competitors, Lux will enable new device architectures for flexible and lightweight electronics with improved performance and functionality. The platform is suitable to host a range of electronic components and fully integrated system-on-chip designs including sensors, RF, displays, lighting, processors, memory, MEMS, and photovoltaics.
The Innovation Crossroads project will focus on the development of this innovative technology at a simulated roll-to-roll prototyping scale, to enhance film crystal quality, repeatability, and electronic properties, while preparing the process for integration into large scale manufacturing. Specific research activities will be conducted in three phases comprising material development, electronic device fabrication and roll-to-roll system design and integration.
Electronic devices are built on a semiconductor substrate. There has been no material more commonly used to serve this purpose than the silicon wafer. The silicon wafer, in its current form, is essentially unchanged since its inception over 60 years ago. These wafers, although larger today, remain thick, rigid, fragile, and are limited to circular forms no larger than 450 millimeters (18 inches) in diameter. These features are acceptable to electronic device manufacturers building rigid, or non-flexible, devices. However, within the flexible electronics arena, a flexible semiconductor substrate is required. Due to a lack of techniques capable of producing high quality, low cost silicon or other semiconductor films, the industry has yet to see a flexible semiconductor substrate emerge to fulfill this new role. Therefore, the ability to produce large-area, high-throughput quantities of thin film semiconductor material, in a flexible, more durable format would be truly disruptive, and help to usher in the next generation of affordable, flexible, and pervasive electronic devices.
As a semiconductor material supplier to the flexible electronics industry, Lux competes against a variety of emerging and existing technologies. The most direct form of competition is with material suppliers offering alternate classes of thin film semiconductors, including amorphous silicon, laser-based polysilicon, metal oxides, and organics. Lux also competes with established silicon wafer manufacturers and suppliers in markets that do not require flexibility but instead require a lower cost or larger area alternative to the silicon wafer.
Lux Semiconductors will become a flexible substrate material supplier that operates upstream in the flexible electronics value chain. Flexible, large area, highly crystalline silicon and germanium substrates of significantly higher electronic quality than current state of the art technologies will be sold to device manufacturers and product creators. Customers include manufacturers of a wide range of electronic devices and fully integrated system-on-chip designs, including sensors, displays, lighting, processors, memory, microelectronics, photovoltaics, and similar ‘internet of things’ devices. These flexible electronics serve a breadth of end user markets including consumer electronics, robotics, automotive, biomedical, healthcare, and industrial. These markets combined to approximately $29 billion in 2017 and are expected to be worth $87 billion by 2024. Of this market size, roughly 25% is attributed to substrate material.
Lux Semiconductors is developing a novel thin-film recrystallization process capable of producing high quality poly-crystalline semiconductor thin-films in a flexible roll-to-roll format. Through its patent pending process, Lux will produce thin-film poly-crystalline semiconductors with up to 8x higher electrical mobility, and more than 10x higher temperature compatibility. This will allow for faster, fully integrated devices that can make use of existing high temperature processes used in the traditional semiconductor industry, applied to roll-to-roll flexible devices for the first time. Beyond improved film quality, Lux estimates incredible economic advantages with up to 700x reduction in equipment capital cost, 30x higher throughput, 90x reduced operating expenses, and 10x reduced floor space compared to state of the art excimer laser-based systems used to create the market leading polysilicon. This allows for massive reductions in the cost and complexity, lending tremendous promise for supplanting the industry standard laser crystallization systems. By offering flexible semiconductor substrates with single crystal-like properties at price points significantly below existing competitors, Lux will enable new device architectures for flexible and lightweight electronics with improved performance and functionality. Ultimately, Lux’s novel substrates will catalyze the disruptive evolution from rigid and heavy electronics towards next generation thin, lightweight, and flexible alternatives.
To date, the technology has progressed through the ideation and proof-of-concept stages and is now undergoing further developments at the prototyping scale. Prototyping activities are being conducted using a custom built, simulated roll-to-roll processing chamber located at the company’s headquarters.