With pageantry including the Warren Township High School band, AKHAN Semiconductor celebrated a long-awaited move into a Gurnee business park Friday.
Company founder and Chief Executive Officer Adam Khan told the crowd of roughly 75 politicians, community leaders and others that production will begin early next year for products using cutting-edge, diamond-film semiconductors.
In particular, AKHAN plans to make a diamond "window" in the Gurnee facility for high-powered lasers and other products for sale to the military defense industry.
"This is highly impactful technology not only to national security as well as the industrial ongoings, but it's a technology platform to really sink our teeth into and launch from here," Khan said to the crowd that was treated to breakfast goodies and the Warren band before a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony.
AKHAN has had a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory to develop technology using energy-efficient diamond film as semiconductors. Argonne has granted an exclusive licensing agreement for the technology to AKHAN, which is expected to become the first U.S. company to fully develop the process for industries such as aviation, defense and power.
Khan, a Gurnee native, said use of diamond semiconductors, rather than silicon, means devices can be made thinner and operate at higher temperatures, benefiting smartphones and "wearable" technology such as Google Glass.
Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren of Plano was one of the politicians who spoke Friday. Hultgren's 14th Congressional District includes some of Gurnee.
Hultgren said AKHAN fits into his efforts in Washington to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics learning by young students. He said good-paying jobs at AKHAN could be the end result for those pupils.
"We are talking with members of Congress, House and Senate of how can we inspire our young people ... to see opportunity right here (at AKHAN)," Hultgren said. "That if they are willing to invest their lives at a young age -- middle school, early high school or even earlier than that -- to see that there is great opportunity right here to be a scientist, to be an engineer, to be a mathematician, to be able to discover new technologies that no one else has thought of and to bring them to market."
Democratic state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake said it was a long road for AKHAN to take into the Gurnee office park since the company's plan was revealed in September 2014. She said AKHAN will be a catalyst for job growth in Lake County as it leads "Diamond Prairie."
"I really got the sense that it was more than just making money for him," Bush said as she recalled how she and Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik helped bring AKHAN to the village. "It was changing how we move about in our world, but having an impact on where he came from."
Documents show a $2.3 million package of local incentives would include property tax abatements from the Warren and Woodland school districts, Gurnee Park District and Warren Township government.
Approved early this year, Gurnee's end of the deal requires the village to reimburse a maximum of $1.5 million in sales tax to AKHAN over five years, unless the dollar total is reached earlier. AKHAN would receive the money only if it generates sales tax, according to the agreement.
About $3.5 million in income tax breaks also have been sought by AKHAN from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Frank S. Abderholden
With a local management team in place, a new tech firm is expecting to get its operation running in Gurnee as soon as a permanent facility is found and built out.
Adam Khan, owner of AKHAN Semiconductor, addressed the Gurnee Village Board on Monday night to give an update on the company's move to the village. The Warren Township High School graduate's company was lured to Khan's hometown through a series of multimillion dollar tax incentives.
With the local investment secured, Khan told officials Monday that an exclusive licensing agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory will be complete this month. That deal, he said, paves the way for AKHAN to continue developing diamond lattice technology that the company hopes to incorporate into next-generation telecommunication devices.
AKHAN's product lines aim to serve faster computers, aviation and satellite technology, and radar communication.
"Here in the Midwest, we are developing world-class technology," said Carl Shurboff, who Khan announced Monday as his chief operating officer alongside company president Ahmed Fazil.
Shurboff has 25 years of experience at Motorola working on semiconductors and also spent time in technology licensing at Argonne.
AKHAN's new management team also includes executives James Sanford and Antonio Cabrera. While the semiconductor aspect of the company won't go into immediate production in Gurnee, the company will be working on what Khan called "diamond optical windows." Used with high-powered lasers, Khan said the product has a big market in the defense industry and can also be used for sensors.
Khan also announced he is working with the College of Lake County on a six-week job training program centered on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.
"We need this now more than ever before because a majority of the jobs can't be filled," he said, explaining that job seekers don't have the qualifications STEM employers need. A technology incubator at AKHAN offices will also be made available to CLC students, said Khan, who called the incubator "a pipeline for students to bring their ideas to market."
CLC President Jerry Weber was among those anxiously awaiting AKHAN's full presence in Gurnee.
"I just want to reinforce how excited we are about the partnership. We're happy to be a part of it," Weber said.
State Sen. Melinda Bush, D- Grayslake, said Khan's update is tremendously exciting.
"This is what happens when people work together. We need to do more of this in Illinois and the United States. We need to make investments in this type of technologies," she said. "This is going to be something we talk about for a very long time."
Khan was also congratulated Monday through aides from Congressmen Robert Dold and Randy Hultgren.
"AKHAN SEMI represents a great step forward for our district, both in scientific and economic development," Hultgren, the 14th District Republican, said in a statement. "The innovative and dynamic work being done by AKHAN SEMI will be an incredible asset to our community."
Under its grant agreement with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, AKHAN will invest at least $15 million and create at least 80 jobs in two years. The company estimated that it might employ 250 people within three years.
In exchange, the company would get a credit worth an estimated $3 million over 10 years against its state income tax obligations. AKHAN also will receive $500,000 toward relocation costs and $40,000 to train its new hires.
The village of Gurnee will rebate sales taxes up to $1.5 million over the course of five years. Lake County approved a similar agreement for up to $500,000 as well as partial property tax relief. Local school districts 50 and 121, Gurnee Park District and Warren Township also awarded AKHAN property tax relief as part of a local incentive package worth roughly $2.3 million.
After Monday's meeting, Khan said his company is still negotiating on office space in the village.
Khan said he chose Gurnee because it's his hometown and it serves as a regional transportation hub.
At Warren High School, Khan played in the school band and on the tennis team. During his senior year, he acted in a number of school productions.
"It has a great quality of life and a great educational system," Khan said of Gurnee and its schools. "I did a little bit of everything."
After high school, the 32-year-old attended the University of Illinois at Chicago to study physics and electrical engineering. He completed graduate work at the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility at Stanford University.
AKHAN Semiconductor was formed in 2012 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of AKHAN Technologies Inc., which was founded by Khan in 2007. In 2012, AKHAN Semiconductor patented its Miraj Diamond Platform, a breakthrough energy-efficient semiconductor technology developed at Argonne's Center for Nanoscale Materials.
Looking across the consumer electronics market, it is clear the threshold for developing sleeker, more functional, and efficient devices approaches. However, challenges in meeting these demands with silicon based semiconductor persist as they will be increasingly unable to meet the necessary performance standards. Something will have to change - our technology will have to improve.
Devices of all kinds like smartphones, laptops, even TVs, often become hot to the touch from even normal use. Silicon is the villain because it is a poor conductor of heat. Not until recently has a familiar material, diamond, helped us clear this hurdle, promising to make diamond semiconductors a gadget's new best friend.
At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I shared a common sentiment with Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus Rift and its breakthrough virtual reality headset. We agreed that the composition of these electronics needs to change for us to develop more advanced tools and devices that are more functional and less bulky. Evidence of this abounds: mobile phones often can't retain power for a whole day without an external power source or another charge. Yet our expectations for these devices continue to rise. Further, designers struggle with capabilities today as in the case of Google Glass, the unique eyeglasses taken off shelves because critics deemed their look "terrible." Very simply, Google and others are experiencing difficulty because current technology leaves design and engineering at two different capability thresholds on the product development spectrum.
These thresholds will be broken in 2015. After years of R&D, the diamond thin film material will usher in next-generation electronics and open doors for advanced capabilities, longer battery life and most importantly, fully transparent devices.
The Fully Transparent Circuit
The values of a fully transparent circuit are endless - heads-up displays for drivers, cooks, pilots and the like; virtual reality; and other 3-D applications. Imagine the applications employed in Tom Cruise's Minority Report movie where computer users project images across a glass screen so they can add multiple layers. Imagine preparing a recipe without flipping pages or moving a book out of the way. And imagine pilots tightly maneuvering themselves and other aerial vehicles while peering through their glasses from various locations as in the popular film, Iron Man.
Before diamond semiconductors, we lived at the edge of practicality and conceded all future use cases to Hollywood. Today, and more importantly, tomorrow, with diamond material, these visions spring to life.
In mid-January, on behalf of AKHAN Semiconductor, I was granted a patent that qualified as "first to invent." It includes a system that bonds necessary contact metals to diamond semiconductor, creating a fully transparent circuit. The patent allows for the metallization of n-type diamond semiconductors, a process that gives a material the ability to conduct electricity. Previously, it was only possible to create n-type semiconductors with silicon, germanium, silicon carbide, and GaAs, which are widely used today. Each of these materials are nontransparent, presenting a foundational design challenge for the next generation of electronics. This means we can produce those concepts of transparent household appliances, heads-up displays and less clunky smart eyewear.
As discussed previously, product visionaries like Palmer Luckey realize the limitations of innovators using current high-tech availabilities. We both agreed that the application of diamond technology can complement the new materials developed by Palmer and other tech pioneers. On the clear path of the "Internet of Everything" lies augmented reality, where defense research agencies such as D.A.R.P.A. are investing in long term applications such as immersive VR for piloting of aerial and ground vehicles, requiring substantial improvements in the component equipment capability. On the consumer side, augmented reality represents the evolution and nexus of social media, advertising and mobile electronics. With significant corporate activities such as Facebook's acquisition of Oculus Rift, Google's recent announcement to suspend sale of Glass to consumers, Apple announcing plans to utilize sapphire in the iphone7 and the acquisition of transparent metal intellectual property concurrent to Samsung announcing adoption of Gorilla Glass for its future products, one thing is abundantly clear: the biggest stakeholders in mobile and those that threaten their market share are viewing future applications through a glass lens.
It's clear that to advance the consumer electronics market, designers must access an avenue from which they can work. For years, they pushed the boundaries of consumer electronics; so it is now up to scientists and engineers to usher in this next generation. First, diamond technology will arrive this year, paving the way. Why? Diamond can do much more beyond transparency and applications for virtual reality advancement. It can create greater efficiency and functionality.
Ultra Rugged Electronics
The hallmark of diamond semiconductor application rests in the ability of diamond to run hotter without degrading performance (over three times that of silicon). When a slew of programs are running on your computing device, you likely see programs run more slowly and definitely hear the fan inside your device turn on. Not only are these aspects annoying, they simply can disappear with the internal make-up of the devices.
Beyond greater capability to run hotter, diamond is cooled more easily (with 22 times the heat transfer efficiency of silicon), can tolerate higher voltages before breaking down and electrons (and electron-holes) can move faster through them. These advantages make diamond the obvious next step in developing the high-tech innards of our devices.
The advantages of using diamond to replace silicon semiconductors over time are substantial. And AKHAN Semiconductor is uniquely poised to realize this in 2015.
A New Era
As we introduce diamond into the CE marketplace, expect at least three applications next year from the Miraj Diamond(tm) Platform:
-Diamond in DC Power applications such as DC-DC converter for HEV and thermal management for both the former and mobile battery, enabling greater power control and conditioning for mobile power supply.
-Diamond thermal interface materials for integrated circuit packaging that allows diamond to enhance display capabilities in mobile and/or tablet electronics packaging.
-Scratch-resistant coating for sapphire and glass in laptops, tablets, mobile and wearable electronics displays.
The Miraj Diamond(tm) Platform combines two semiconductor advancements borne out of research and collaboration completed at Argonne National Laboratory, among the worlds' most respected and advanced research facilities.
Through cutting-edge material development and advanced manufacturing capabilities, AKHAN will make diamond-based semiconductors and tools real, market-ready and ubiquitous to overtake its limited predecessor, silicon. The era of diamond electronics is upon us and we can't wait to show you more.
My “aha” moment occurred in 2004 when, as a junior at the University of Illinois at Chicago, double majoring in physics and engineering, a research paper seized my interest. It was about the role that diamond could play as an electronics material — vastly uncharted territory at the time. I recognized then that diamond technology could spark a seismic change in the electronics industry and I knew I wanted to play a role in making diamond semiconductor a reality.
Then, as now, silicon had been the popular material choice for semiconductor since the 1960s, and it still constitutes 95 percent of the device types available in the market. But it presented several long-term challenges. The perhaps better known problem, popularly expressed as “Moore’s Law” highlights the trend of smaller and faster electronics being physically limited by the capability of silicon — simply put, the speeds and sizes of devices in the market are almost the absolute best the material can physically perform. The still more pressing and visible problem in silicon was that of heat. Historically, heat management with silicon semiconductor devices has proven problematic for power electronics. The cooling methods required were inefficient and served as a major source of e-waste. The industry required a silicon alternative that enabled devices to be smaller, cooler, faster, more powerful, and cleaner.
That defines the diamond semiconductor. What was once considered the “holy grail” of electronics is a true alternative today, both as a silicon supplement and as a standalone semiconductor platform material. No longer just relegated to gem stone status, diamond provides a road map for an unknown number of years ahead in power electronic development and more broadly the global electronics industry.
The Power to Transform Industries
Indeed, many consider that the industry is entering the Dawn of a Diamond Age of Electronics. They believe the world’s hardest-known natural material with exceptional electronic properties will take a variety of industries to the next level of performance. It is on the verge of being the accepted choice to produce today’s most advanced industrial products – and its use in consumer electronics ranks close behind.
Why diamond? It can run hotter without degrading in performance (over 5 times that of Silicon), is more easily cooled (with 22 times the heat transfer efficiency of silicon), can tolerate higher voltages before breaking down, and electrons (and electron-holes) can move faster through them. Already, semiconductor devices with diamond material are available that deliver one million times more electrical current than silicon or previous attempts using diamond.
Diamond-based semiconductors are capable of increasing power density as well as create faster, lighter, and simpler devices. They’re more environmentally friendly than silicon and improve thermal performance within a device. As a result, the diamond materials market for semiconductors can easily eclipse that of the Silicon Carbide, which is seen growing at a 42.03 percent compound annual rate through 2020 from $3.3 Billion in 2014, due to performance, cost, and direct integration with the existing silicon platform.
The Future Is Here
The semiconductor industry dates to 1833, when English natural philosopher Michael Faraday described the “extraordinary case” of his discovery of electrical conduction increasing with temperature in silver sulfide crystals. But it wasn’t until this century that diamonds began to be considered seriously.
A little over a decade since that research paper sparked my interest, my company AKHAN SEMI, in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, has developed a series of advancements that allows us to manufacture standalone diamond materials, deposit diamond directly on processed silicon, fabricate complete diamond semiconductor devices, as well as attach diamond material to other electronics materials.
Diamond wafer technology is producing thinner and cheaper devices already in use in information technology, the military and aerospace applications. In addition, diamond semiconductor will have a major impact on the consumer electronics, telecommunications and health industries, among many others, starting as early as 2015.
Automakers are eyeing applications of diamond power devices in control modules for electric cars. Diamond semiconductors can also help better manage battery life and battery systems for a wide variety of devices including phones, cameras and vehicles.
For cloud computer servers, which are stored in data centers that consume vast amounts of energy in an exceedingly wasteful manner, diamond semiconductors use less energy more efficiently while delivering better performance. Because diamond technology shrinks the size and energy needed for a semiconductor, it paves the way for smaller personal electronics from washers and dryers to televisions and digital cameras. As for defense technology, it delivers greater range, reliability, and performance in both normal and extreme/hazardous operating environments.
As a result, diamond semiconductors lead to a greater range and energy efficiency in their applications. They help drive cheaper, faster cloud integration for consumer and business needs. They change the capability of where and how to use our phones, laptops and other personal electronic devices that have yet to be invented with the benefits extending well beyond performance. Power electronics such as diamond semiconductors represent an enormous opportunity to reduce electronic waste and cut electronic cooling costs in half.
The Perfect Synthetic, Not a Blood Diamond
Everyone knows that diamonds are formed in nature over a considerable period of time and cost thousands of dollars on the open market. However, lab-grown diamonds can be produced cleanly and affordably in a factory setting anywhere in the world from some of the most abundant molecules in the universe: methane and hydrogen gases, which are readily available. The process with which I am most familiar is the one my company employs, and utilizes at Argonne National Laboratory in which methane and hydrogen plasma are exposed to microwave energy to form very thin diamond materials over various sizes, thicknesses, and on different materials such as silicon, sapphire, glass, among others.
Once formed, utilizing these thin diamond film materials (about 1/70 the diameter of a human hair) we are able to alter the electronic properties and form device structures that are over a thousand times thinner than the leading silicon counterpart in addition to the previous state-of-the-art in diamond but with also increased performance, allowing the trend of smaller, faster, and more functional to continue.
In just a decade, as silicon reaches its threshold, diamond material is taking its place. It is time to pass the torch to diamond – a superior material that will enable the next generation of innovators to create faster, more powerful and greener electronics.