24 June 2021
Porotech raises £3m to fund development of micro-LED production technique
To fund the next stage of development of its unique micro-LED production technique, gallium nitride (GaN) material technology developer Porotech (a spin-out from the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride at the UK’s University of Cambridge) has raised £3m in a funding round led by European venture capital fund Speedinvest and joined by previous investors IQ Capital, Cambridge Enterprise, Martlet, and Cambridge Angels.
Micro-LEDs represent next-generation technology for displays in products such as smartphones, smartwatches and virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) headsets. They are particularly useful in outdoor settings, where sunlight can often make existing displays difficult to see clearly. However, the performance of existing micro-LED technologies deteriorates as the device size decreases.
Porotech has created a new class of porous GaN semiconductor material that offers performance improvements suitable for mass production and can be customized for individual customers’ needs.
“Porous GaN is basically GaN with tiny holes in it that are a few tens of nanometers across,” says CEO & co-founder Dr Tongtong Zhu. “It’s an entirely new engineered GaN material platform to build semiconductor devices on. It offers performance improvements that are suitable for mass production, scalable in wafer size – and crucial for the next generation of micro-display devices such as AR glasses,” he adds.
Despite only spinning out in January 2020, Porotech has been generating revenue for 10 months, and says that it is working with some of the biggest global names in display technology. In November, the firm launched the first commercial native red indium gallium nitride (InGaN) LED epiwafer for micro-LED applications.
Porotech’s next step is to expand its novel approach to integrate InGaN-based red, green and blue (RGB) micro-LEDs for full-color micro-displays – and ultimately create smart pixels that can be controlled independently for unrivalled responsiveness and accuracy for things like AR gestures.
Currently, technologies being tested for smart pixels are largely based on aluminum indium gallium phosphide (AlInGaP) material and quantum dot color conversion (QDCC). But AllnGaP struggles at the small pixel sizes required by AR – and QDCC suffers from uniformity and stability issues. In addition, both approaches require a mixture of different material.
Porotech’s novel approach enables all three primary colors to be made with the same GaN material and integrated on a single wafer, with no need for special structuring. The firm also plans to develop its own supply chain ecosystem to help it develop and produce products more quickly.
“We are already seeing high levels of demand for our standard and customized porous GaN substrates and micro-LED epiwafers, which we can provide on sapphire and silicon platforms ranging from 100mm (4”) to 300mm (12”),” says Zhu.
“Smart pixels will be our next development – monolithically generated and integrating native self-emissive RGB micro-LEDs on a single wafer to give smaller, lighter, thinner displays that use less energy and offer the greater accuracy required for things like AR gestures,” he adds.
“The revolutionary technology developed by Porotech is set to transform the electronics industry as demand grows for smaller, lighter, sharper displays that are more accurate and environmentally friendly than ever before,” comments Rick Hao, principal at Speedinvest. “This new type of porous GaN semiconductor material fits within existing industry processes and is robust and flexible enough to be tailored to different applications. Porotech has demonstrated that it has both the product and the commercial capability to become a key player in next-generation display technology.”