IQE interview: The geopolitics of GaN

IQE interview: The geopolitics of GaN

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Rodney Pelzel, CTO of IQE, talks to eeNews Europe about its plans for expanding gallium nitride (GaN) into power and microLED applications.

IQE is a supplier of epitaxial wafers in the UK for many applications, from VCSEL vertical lasers to GaN-on-silicon for RF applications. The shifting geopolitical landscape is driving more attention on supplying GaN wafers and power devices in the US and Europe rather than Taiwan or China, 

“IQE has a very long history with GaN as a material system, starting in the US 20 years ago on military RF applications and that grew into a successful product offering that we have today, and we have experimented with all kinds of substrates and architectures.

“We’ve had power on our roadmap for quite a while but it has been stop and start. With GaN on Si we are in customer development and qualification. GaN is very interesting as it needs a proprietary buffer. We own that and guard that under lock and key.”

“We have 650V for both e and d on 6in and 8in and used a lot of our knowhow to get to where we are today. We have relationships with IDMs, fabless, foundries, and We are also designing our own reference structure to sample numerous customers at 650V

“It is key to our diversification strategy that has two thrusts with power and microLED. Today we manufacture GaN on Silicon in Massachusetts and have recently added two G5 reactors from Aixtron. We also have the original G5 for the group in St Mellon in Wales in a European Space Agency (ESA) programme and engaged with imec programmes as well.”

The Newport magafoundry was put in place for GaAS VCSELs with ten G4 Aixtron and two G5’s for GaN coming on line in October. “We are setting up very deliberately to have a very significantly to have a capability in the UK and US to give us global reach.”

“The geopolitical landscape is getting more complex,” he said. This is leading to a peculiar situation with isolated development teams.

“Different GaN teams in the regions for entirely independent developments,” he said.

“I don’t think the supply chain has really shaken out. It does remind me of the RF GaAs landscape. I think it will be complex model because of where the IP sits. 60 to 80% of the value sits in the epi which sets the performance, and you can run that through an 8in depreciated fab and get leading edge performance. The line widths are nothing special for a fab today. The epi is really the key part to that.”

The current planar GaN epi process does not need an engineered wafer, which IQE also develops.

“At 650V, engineered not so much – with 1200V the verdict is out. We have started to dabble in 1200V and have a roadmap. My feeling is that there is a play for engineered substrates of some sorts as you go to higher voltage nodes, also as the demands for 650V shift with the RF behaviour which is determined by the buffer and the defects.”

The choice of GaN structure, whether planar or vertical trench, is up to the customer, he says, rather than the depth of the epitaxial layer. “Trench is more for the customer but its not too far a leap to have the capability. When I think about the problem, what I am really engineering is how does the epi layer behave with silicon and function with rogue silicon and that’s where the value of the epi comes through to be able to have iterative designs in less than a year.”

The rise of more integrated devices is also important.

“As you start to integrate various capabilities that does change the epi but we are not seeing that right now. The interesting thing is in the design side. That’s where the foundry model and fabless companies can really go much quicker than the vertically integrated suppliers as you are leveraging all the core capabilities rather than having to have them all in house

“When you start factoring in the geopolitics and regional restrictions it depends on the ramp at 650V and who wins. There is a need for more GaN capacity in this region,” he said. This is leading to expansion in the US and Europe.



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