AKHAN Blog

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Why the American Foundries Act Does Not Go Far Enough

July 14,2020

The American Foundries Act 2020 is a bipartisan bill that proposes spending as much as $25 billion on commercial microelectronics manufacturing ($15 billion), defense microelectronics grants ($5 billion) and R&D to secure U.S. leadership in microelectronics ($5 billion). The prioritization of stateside semiconductor manufacturing and development is crucial, as semiconductors are a platform technology and the base for much of the modern world, from airplanes to cell phones, and most crucially - defense capabilities. While the United States can be credited with the advent of semiconductor technology, recently, it has become too dependent on foreign manufactures. Due to this fact, the U.S. has opened itself up to strategic vulnerabilities across all industries, but especially in defense efforts.

The proposed American Foundries Act aims to address those vulnerabilities, but unfortunately, it does not go far enough. As the Act currently stands, the overall emphasis appears to be targeted toward the robust silicon presence. Essentially, policymakers seem to be prioritizing the relocation of large offshore fabrication facilities (fabs) to the United States, which is of course, important. However, the current Act falls alarmingly short in the future development of advanced semiconductor materials, and more specifically, diamond, a material proven to be optimal for semiconductors and coveted by foreign adversaries, in particular, China.

Unambiguously, lab-grown diamond has been identified as the most promising and ideal semiconductor material, garnering significant research and development efforts from institutions such as the US Department of Energy, US Army Research Laboratory, and China’s Hubei Space Bureau —the latter of which already known to be researching the material for advanced weapons usage. Across every industry, diamond has outperformed existing semiconductor materials, including silicon, silicon carbide and gallium nitride. Diamond enables us to address critical issues limiting performance in electronics and optics applications across key industries such as aerospace & defense, consumer electronics and more. To not have diamond called out specifically within the American Foundries Act is extremely shortsighted, and to a point, dangerous.

Huawei Technologies Inc. is a tech giant accused of acting as a private arm of the Chinese government and has been alleged to steal intellectual property from a number of powerhouse American tech companies, including Apple, T-Mobile and Cisco. In 2018, Huawei made an attempt to steal AKHAN Semiconductor’s Miraj Diamond® Glass technology. As the only diamond semiconductor fab in North America, we shipped a prototype of our Miraj Diamond® Glass technology to a lab in San Diego, Huawei Device USA, in an effort to license the breakthrough technology to the world’s second largest cell phone vendor.

Leading up to the deal, both companies agreed that Huawei would send the samples back to AKHAN within 60 days. Huawei also agreed to limit any test it might perform to not cause damage - a standard disclosure designed to deter reverse engineering of intellectual property. All documents complied with U.S. export laws, including provisions of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). ITAR governs the export of materials with defense applications, and diamond coatings are on the list because of their potential for use in laser weapons.

Two months after we sent Huawei our Miraj Diamond® Glass, the Chinese tech company missed the deadline to return the sample. A month after that, Huawei finally responded, and claimed they’d been performing “standard” tests on the ultrahard diamond glass. An image of the glass with a scratch on the surface accompanied the note. Eventually, Huawei sent the sample back. The ultra-hard glass was not only scratched, it was quite visibly and intentionally broken in two, and three shards of the diamond glass were missing.

Eventually, we approached the FBI, who immediately took interest in our claim and requested that the glass be sent to the Bureau’s research center in Quantico, VA. After analyzing the damaged prototype, the FBI concluded that Huawei had blasted it with a high energy laser, powerful enough to be sinter the material. When AKHAN questioned Huawei about the glass, Huawei admitted it sent the glass to China - a criminal violation of ITAR.

Additionally, we participated in an FBI sting targeting Huawei. At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, AKHAN executives agreed to wear a wire to a meeting with our contacts at Huawei, where Huawei doubled down on sending the glass to China. The result of the sting operation was a FBI raid of Huawei’s San Diego office. Currently, The U.S. Justice Department is deciding how to try the criminal case against Huawei.

For the reasons detailed above, we feel as not having “diamond” called out specifically in The American Foundries Act 2020 is not only detrimental to American competitiveness in semiconductor, but more importantly, a great danger to American safety. The majority investment in the continuation of the aging silicon platform is the opposite of strategic, comparable to investing in stage coaches after the advent of the internal combustion engine. If the United States is committed to maintaining leadership in semiconductor technology and wants to keep the great citizens of this nation safe, it is imperative that policymakers have a thorough understanding of the strategic importance of diamond as a semiconductor material, a market in which our enemies are already attempting to overtake our current global lead.

What Are Wide-Bandgap Semiconductors?

September 30,2019

As the name indicates, wide bandgap semiconductors (WBGS) have relatively wider bandgaps than do conventional semiconductors. Why is this important? WBGS can allow your devices to operate at higher temperatures, voltages and frequencies than is possible with, for example, silicon, by far the most commonly used semiconductor material historically. The “width” of a bandgap itself is not a linear measure but instead a measure of energy in electron volts.

AKHAN Semiconductor’s approach to WBGS is to utilize diamonds as a more cost-efficient, and effective material for consumers in various industries. To achieve a basic understanding of how a semiconductor works, you’ll need to get an idea of what is involved in the makeup structure.

The bandgap & the structure of elemental metallic solids

The electrons of an atom move in discrete levels. Each level, or band, can have only so many electrons. In the atomic ground state, several levels, or bands, are filled, or closed, and there are a few electrons in the outer band that can participate in atomic reactions, such as forming compounds. Closed levels are called valence bands, and the outer level is the conduction band. The bandgap, also called the energy gap, is the energy range in a solid where no electron states can exist. It is the energy required to promote an electron in the valence band to the conduction band.

The future

With the rise of diamond technology, silicon’s dominance is, and has been for some time, eroding as the leading choice for semiconductor material. Gallium Nitride (GaN) and Silicon Carbide (SiC,) commonly referred to as compound semiconductors, have shown advantages over Silicon, but the ultimate semiconductor material, by any measure of comparison, is diamond.

AKHAN Semiconductor is the leader on the cutting edge of developing technologies to enable the reality of creating smaller, more powerful and more energy-responsible electronics. Contact them to explore your next semiconductor solution.

AKHAN Semiconductor: Committed to US Military and Defense

July 18,2019

AKHAN Semiconductor’s Miraj Diamond® Technology will nurture advancements across a number of core industries, including consumer electronics, automotive, telecommunications and more, but the Company is most excited about its bustling partnership within the United States military and defense sectors. This summer, AKHAN added two board members who had prominent careers working in the intelligence and military communities. Former CIA Directorate of Operations Donald Hepburn joined the Board in May, and in July, AKHAN added U.S. Naval Vice Admiral Charles W. Moore. Both men offer unique perspectives that will help AKHAN become a valued resource to both communities.

● Hepburn, a national security expert, will act as the Global Security and Intelligence Advisor. In his role, Hepburn will ensure AKHAN’s security system scales as the company grows, but also lend expertise and help build upon relationships in the U.S. defense and high-tech research communities.

● Moore, a retired Vice Admiral who spent 36 years in the US Navy, will help identify new opportunities for AKHAN’s technology and ensure the company is continuing to provide solutions that meet the military’s needs.

Both men join AKHAN as the Company prepares for the final phase of the U.S. Army’s xTech 2.0 Competition this October. After presenting earlier this year, AKHAN was named a finalist in the Army’s competition, which called upon companies to demonstrate technologies that can help the military branch meet its modernization challenges, with the goal of seeking nontraditional innovators who can work with the military.

AKHAN’s proposal calls for the integration of its proprietary Miraj Diamond® technology in protective coatings that can significantly enhance protection and survivability of aircrafts developed under the Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative. The multi-layer Miraj Diamond® materials have broad applicability for protection of both optically transparent and opaque surfaces including aircraft canopies, sensor windows, and other sensitive structures.

AKHAN is excited and honored for the opportunity to present to U.S. Military leaders, and regardless of outcome, will continue to accelerate technological concepts that can benefit the military as it defends our great nation.

Age of Diamond Semiconductors

June 12,2019

Despite reaching the material’s physical limitations, silicon has been the predominant material of choice for semiconductors since their invention - until now. AKHAN Semiconductor is ushering in a new era of electronics technology using diamonds. Diamond far outmatches traditional silicon in its ability to diffuse heat, handle huge amounts of power and take up far less space, ultimately leading to lighter, faster, and more energy-responsible electronics.

Diamond’s inherent properties make it the ideal material for semiconductor application, and AKHAN’s state-of-the-art manufacturing process allows for these crystals, typically known for their luxury prices, to be produced at a cost-effective rate. Using common methane gas as the input, AKHAN “cracks” the gas onto a heated platform using a ball of plasma. The process takes place in a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) reactor, creating the perfect diamond wafers needed for electronics production. The benefits of these diamond wafers include:

● Heat Diffusion - Diamonds’ ability to conduct heat far surpasses that of materials currently used for electronics, like silicon (22 times better) and copper (5 times better). Diamonds are also able to operate at temperatures over 300 degrees, which reduces the cost required for cooling systems and overheating repairs.

● Increased Power - Because diamond is able to handle voltages ten times higher than industry-standard materials, new technologies are able to utilize higher power without needing more material. Additionally, diamond operates at over 90% increased power efficiency by reducing the ambient power loss compared to current technology.

● Less Space - Diamond has the uncommon ability to isolate massive voltages with a small fraction of the material. For example, when isolating 10,000V, 50 times less diamond is needed compared to silicon. Modern technologies that use diamond are able to be more than 1,000 times thinner than those that use silicon.

All of these attributes present diamond to be the ideal successor technology. With diamond, electronics can be developed and sold at a lower price point, while also saving billions of dollars in energy. AKHAN’s semiconductor materials and devices will have an impact on all industries, with some of the most notable applications being lighter and more durable consumer electronics, faster and more weight efficient aircraft and propulsion, offensive and defensive capabilities in directed energy/high-energy laser systems, and more fuel-efficient hybrid and electric vehicles.

Not-So Quiet Race in Wide Band Gap Semiconductor

EE|Times- June 30, 2016

Wide band gap semiconductor materials (diamond, silicon carbide, and gallium nitride) are well positioned to play important roles in the next and future generations of consumer and military/defense electronics capability.

With focused initiatives in place such as the ‘Materials Genome Initiative’ and the ‘Power America’and a resurgence in advanced materials manufacturing capability, wide band gap semiconductor materials—such as diamond, silicon carbide (SiC), and gallium nitride (GaN)—are well positioned to play important roles in the next and future generations of consumer and military/defense electronics capability. Despite big backers like the White House and U.S. Department of Energy, the present capability and technology development roadmap continue to remain largely unknown to the broader scientific and engineering community (not to mention main street America). A few years into these initiatives, what can we expect from the transition from lab-to-fab deployment and where can we see early adoption?

Starting with the familiar applications in power semiconductor, diamond, GaN, and SiC, are already either resegmenting market availability from silicon or are growth vehicles in emerging market applications. So what’s the difference between now and the other false starts for these advanced materials? With silicon market leader Intel announcing a speed/efficiency cap for chip performance moving forward, and simultaneously announcing significant downsizing, silicon’s ability to meet current performance specs are questionable, let alone those of next-generation applications like mobile and wearables. Coupled with policy support for resegmentation and quality research and development, these three materials stand to make waves in most analysts’ 2020 plans.

Diamond: Being more than a little biased, I rely upon the objectivity of the 2003 Oak Ridge National Laboratory “Comparison of Wide-Bandgap Semiconductors For Power Electronics Applications” summary remarks on diamond. “Diamond shows the best theoretical performance… exceeding every other WBG semiconductor by a factor of several times in every category. However, its processing problems have not yet been solved” Advances in synthesis and semiconductor doping have since opened the materials capability to address current and emerging market needs.

Pros: See above. Further applicability with new n-type and p-type doping approaches, as well as low temperature (CMOS compatible) growth. No lattice mismatch with silicon platform, diamond-on-silicon a viable route for resegmented potential adopters/developers.

Cons: The least mature of the WBG semiconductor materials, development work is needed on commercial semiconductor processes to enable widespread applicability and high volume usage.

Where to find it now: [Resegmented Market Applications] Thermal Management, and Power RF [Emerging Market Applications] Electro-Mechanical (Sensor/Detector Systems) & Electro-Optic (Optical Widows)

Gallium nitride: More mature than diamond, GaN devices have had widespread deployment in optoelectronics (LED and Laser Diodes), RF, and High Power electronics primarily due to the materials direct bandgap and high-frequency performance. From a synthesis standpoint, thick GaN substrates being commercially unavailable and GaN-on-Sapphire and GaN-on-SiC remaining a costly proposition, GaN remains the most costly of the WBG materials (excluding Single Crystal diamond).

Pros: Switching performance (fast speeds, low losses) & direct gap applicability for optoelectronics

Cons: Cost, thermal performance (one-fourth the thermal conductivity of SiC and one-twentieth of diamond), power handling, and platform compatibility with Silicon processes.

Where to Find It Now: [Resegmented Market Applications] High Power and Radio Frequency [Emerging Market Applications] Optoelectronic (LED/LD)

Silicon carbide: The most mature/familiar of the WBG semiconductor materials. Despite higher processing temperatures (700C) and costly substrates (single crystal silicon), the long maturation cycle of the technology has made it the cheapest of the three WBG semiconductor materials discussed. SiC enjoys broad commercialization in power devices, and is starting to play an important role in electric and hybrid electric vehicles (EV/HEV) markets due its higher operating temperature even at higher voltages.

Pros: high blocking voltages afford reduced system sizes with lesser overshoot protection, fast switching, and kilovolt range devices with low on-resistances.

Cons: high deposition temperatures and limited substrate applicability still render SiC a seismic shift away from the CMOS silicon platform.

Where to find it now: [Resegmented Market Applications] Diodes for EV/HEV, photovoltaics, uninterruptible power supply, and motor drives [Emerging Market Applications] Transistors for photovoltaic Inverters and power train inverters.

With different material attributes pulling the WBG materials into different niche and traditional power semiconductor device applications, the semiconductor market (and more broadly the global electronics market) has been enabled with respect to materials design. Will the immediate needs in power semiconductor create a standard/status quo WBG semiconductor or are the emerging applications diverse enough to support sustained growth amongst all three? Let me know your thoughts!

Moore’s Law and Moving Beyond Silicon: The Rise of Diamond Technology

WIRED- January, 2015

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.