Thinner and more powerful semiconductors

Thinner and more powerful semiconductors

University of Alberta spin-off claims a stake in booming semiconductor market
September 9, 2014

According to University of Alberta (U of A) materials scientist Ken Cadien, for every 10 electrons that provide power in the world’s energy network, at least one is lost during the electric power conversion process. This presents a significant inefficiency in electrical devices. It also means the market for energy-efficient semiconductors for such technology as smartphones and blood pressure sensors is set to jump from $12 million in 2012 to more than $1 billion by 2022.

nanoBlue, a spin-off company Cadien co-founded with U of A professor Doug Barlage, is developing novel power conversion semiconductors that dramatically improve energy efficiency in electrical devices such as solar panels and inkjet printers. Using a process called Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD), Cadien deposits thin films on a surface by layering chemicals or “reactants” one on top of the other. The resulting semiconductor films, which can consist of gallium, aluminium or zirconium nitride and oxide, can also be used in transistors for devices that operate in extreme heat environments, such as oil drilling equipment.

Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield services company, is testing Cadien’s ALD-based transistors for use in the electronic components in their oil drilling equipment. The team is also using ALD technology in their work with Edmonton-based micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) manufacturer, Micralyne, to fabricate high-voltage zinc oxide power devices on MEMS chips for everything from touch screen sensors, to DNA analysis and optical devices for the communications sector.

These partnerships are setting nanoBlue on the path to expand and help make Canada one of the foremost centres of semiconductor expertise.