5 June 2012

UK funds compound semiconductor R&D projects

Following opening of the competition last Autumn and closing for applications in December, the ‘Technology Inspired Innovation’ competition for collaborative research & development funding in the UK has now resulted in 43 projects being chosen for funding, of £250-500,000 each. Up to £15m comes from the Technology Strategy Board (TSB, the UK government’s national innovation agency), while up to £2.75m comes from the economic development agency Scottish Enterprise.

In the sector ‘Electronics, Photonics and Electrical Systems’, projects chosen for funding include the following:

  • ‘PEARGaN - Power Electronics Applications for Reliability in GaN’ - Semiconductor manufacturers are growing gallium nitride (GaN) on silicon substrates to create discrete devices for high-voltage power electronics applications, with the potential to deliver superior performance in breakdown voltage, on-state resistance and higher switching speeds (reducing system losses and enabling higher efficiency at lower cost than current solutions). PEARGaN has assembled a consortium of partners from UK industry and academia in order to develop new system-level concepts and circuit architectures, evaluate advanced manufacturing process technologies, and create device demonstrators to fully understand the device behaviour and failure mechanisms (proving that the devices are robust and can deliver the required levels of life-time reliability that is demanded by the early adopters in a broad range of power management and control applications). Led by NXP Semiconductors UK Ltd in Stockport, project partners include IQE (Europe) Ltd, Bristol University’s Device Reliability Centre, Manchester University’s Power Conversion Group, and Liverpool University’s Materials & Structures Centre.
  • ‘Robust, High Temperature Driver Circuits for Power Transistors Using Low Cost SiC’ aims to develop a new integrated circuit technology developed specifically to build improved driver circuits for newly emerging silicon carbide (SiC)-based power transistors. SiC transistors enable much more efficient power electronics, leading to improved energy efficiency in many application areas. However, adoption of these devices is being limited by the absence of suitable driver ICs able to operate at the elevated temperatures at which the power transistors run. The new technology integrates low-voltage transistors, built in a 3C-SiC epitaxial layer, grown on a silicon wafer. This technology promises to offer good performance and  excellent high-temperature capability, and be much lower cost than possible all-SiC alternatives. Innovative steps include the development of 3C-SiC on Si heteroepitaxy, the development of the 3C-SiC IC process, and the design and development of a demonstrator driver IC. Led by Raytheon UK in Glenrothes, Scotland, the other project partner is Anvil Semiconductor Ltd, which was spun off from the University of Warwick in July 2011.
  • ‘PEPSC’ (Primary Electrical Power Solid state power Controller) is a £1m technology program, 50% funded by UK government. Its goal is to replace electro-mechanical devices used in aerospace primary electrical power distribution systems with an SSPC (solid-state power controller) power module package using SiC technology. SSPCs have been used to provide switching capability for 28VDC, 270VDC and 115VAC secondary electrical power switching systems on recent aircraft platforms; PEPSC intends to extend the use of SSPC technology into primary power systems capable of 270VDC operation with an output current level of about 120A. PEPSC will enable the reduction of wire gauges (resulting in lighter wiring harnesses), while allowing power to be isolated rapidly in the event of a fault (improving system safety). PEPSC will also feature novel arc fault detection capability, which will isolate power when an arc fault is detected. Led by GE Aviation Systems Ltd in Cheltenham and Newmarket, the other project partner is TT electronics plc subsidiary Semelab Ltd of Lutterworth, Leicestershire.

In the sector ‘Nanotechnology’, projects chosen for funding include:

  • ‘Novel Light Sources & Detectors for mid IR Gas Sensors Powered by Energy Harvesting’, which proposes to develop novel low-cost mid-infrared light sources and detectors, based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and photodiodes (PDs) respectively, primarily for use in non-dispersive infrared (NDIR) gas sensors (replacing the conventional incandescent light bulbs and pyroelectric detectors used in current NDIR gas sensors). Energy per gas concentration measurement is reduced by a factor of typically 3000, enabling sensors to be powered from batteries and power harvesting. The main benefit is the economic deployment of wireless sensor networks and sensor portability. Specific objectives are: (a) to establish the necessary mid-IR device efficiencies; (b) to develop mid-IR LEDs and PDs operating at wavelengths matched to absorption wavebands for commercially relevant gases; and (c) to produce and test NDIR sensors powered from energy harvesting. Led by Gas Sensing Solutions Ltd of Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire, project partners include Compound Semiconductor Technologies Ltd, Gas Measuring Instruments Ltd, and the University of Glasgow.

The offer of funding to the projects is conditional and remains subject to the successful completion of Technology Strategy Board, Scottish Enterprise and BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) compliance and financial review processes.

Tags: GaN SiC

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