POET Technologies: transforming the future of semiconductors with a successor to silicon
By James Brewer
A ‘revolutionary’ semiconductor technology capable of dramatically boosting the performance of smart phones, computers, tablets, and network data centres has been launched on the market.
POET Technologies, a company which has ambitions to list on Nasdaq during 2015, says its product will supersede the current use of silicon in devices and deliver up to 90% solution power savings.
POET (Planar Opto-Electric Technology) says it has laid the basis for semiconductors that can operate at speeds 10 times faster than today, with energy consumption at a fraction of current silicon power demand. Power would be sufficient for instance to enable customers to charge their smartphones once or twice a week rather than daily.
Peter Copetti, executive co-chairman and interim CEO, introduced the company on February 4 2015 to London investors, detailing what he sees as its exciting technology with ‘disruptive’ capabilities, and presenting a roadmap to commercialisation. “There is no reason why this should not become a multi-billion dollar company, ” said Mr Copetti.
The company’s core proposition is a new ‘recipe’ for making devices using gallium arsenide wafer rather than silicon. Gallium arsenide is a compound of the elements gallium and arsenic. Silicon is a pure element, more abundant and has hitherto been cheaper to process as companies “shrank” the technology, but silicon power and performance have been flat-lining.
The company says that non-recurring investment and engineering costs of silicon are escalating. “The silicon roadmap has hit a brick wall, ” said POET chief operating officer Stephane Gagnon.
Galium arsenide has been around for more than 30 years but the industry has only been able to make one type of transistor (n-type). The company’s chief technical officer Dr Geoff Taylor has come up with a new complementary structure designed to function similarly to the existing silicon CMOS computing environment in which two types of transistors are used (p-type and n-type), and to enable many more areas to be exploited.
“It will enable architects in the industry to think about innovative products and device consolidation – lowering manufacturing costs – they could never have done in the past. They will innovate in ways that we cannot even think about right now, ” said Mr Gagnon.
The new process can be applied to every area of the semiconductor integrated circuit market – a market forecast in 2015 by analyst IC Insights to exceed $300bn.
The technology has been developed by Dr Taylor over the last 25 years. The current management has come together over the past year as the driving force backing the achievements of Dr Taylor and his research team at the University of Connecticut. The team has developed and proven key components of the POET platform, resulting in 34 patents, with nine patents pending.
Now the company is in discussions with industry to put together financing and royalty agreements to incorporate the technology into semi-conductor devices globally. It expects to have customers and revenue in 2015.
POET, which has a market capitalisation of $200m, is listed on the TSX Venture Exchange and is looking to list on technology-friendly Nasdaq. Its head office is in Toronto and significant shareholders include three Canadian institutions.
Its formula heralds the first commercialisation of the gallium arsenide chip which will be a breakthrough in being used to build electrical, optical and electro-optical integrated circuits. It will be the first integration of analog and digital chips.
It is claimed that there will be between 50% and 90% application power savings over silicon – the technology can be run on much lower voltages than present systems. “The energy savings in this type of application are massive, ” said Mr Gagnon.
Mr Copetti said that industry as a whole was spending millions of dollars to find a similar solution – “we just happen to be ahead on that path.”
Mr Gagnon said the company’s solution was “projecting to be a three to four node jump in technology.” “We are talking about matching at 40 nanometer the performance of the 14 nanometre mode widely used for highly integrated systems-on-chip. At 14 nanometre you open up the doors to everybody.”
The process technology will be licensed to foundries and to direct customers allowing exclusive rights to be negotiated. On a per-chip basis there would be royalties on enabled device shipments.
Company chiefs say that adoption for industry will be easy, and that they are in discussion with potential customers and partners. Industry partnerships would allow POET to penetrate the existing semiconductor market.
The National Renewable Energy Lab in the US in 2013 performed a study over three months to compare the technologies of silicon and gallium arsenide. According to Rich Kapusta, vice-president of marketing at solar cell manufacturer Alta Devices of California, this showed that even if silicon had the same efficiency as gallium arsenide (which it certainly does not, he said), gallium arsenide produces more total energy and runs 10°C degrees cooler than silicon.
“When you factor the efficiency advantage back in, the total energy collected on a hot roof with a gallium arsenide solar array is over 50% greater than a competing silicon-based solar panel, ” Mr Kapusta wrote in an article.