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Century-old compound turns into high-tech hero

Dow Corning - EEI : 27 April, 2007  (New Product)
More than a century after its creation, one of the world
A high-purity version of silicon carbide, a bluish-black crystalline compound best known as the grit in sandpaper, is becoming increasingly attractive as a semiconductor in microelectronics due to its ability to withstand high heat and electrical current that traditional silicon cannot.

“Silicon carbide is a next generation material designed to extend microelectronics beyond the limitations of current semiconductors,” said Robert Johns, global director, new business development programs, in Advanced Technologies & Ventures Business. “We look forward to unlocking a vast array of unprecedented electronics capabilities for all our customers as a result.”

Leveraging Dow Corning’s leadership in the science of silicon containing materials, the Compound Semiconductor Business staff of scientists and engineers focuses on developing new technologies to provide solutions to semiconductor device customers.

Silicon carbide has taken a circuitous route to its place as a state-of-the-art semiconductor. It was first manufactured in 1891 by Edward G. Acheson, an employee of Thomas Edison. After striking out on his own in a failed attempt to create artificial diamonds, Acheson used silicon carbide to patent the abrasive Carborundum. Silicon carbide was the second-hardest substance behind diamonds for more than 50 years before being eclipsed by other compounds.

Electronics and optical engineers have spent the past several decades studying ways to use silicon carbide as a semiconductor, but only recently have manufacturing techniques improved enough to allow the quality and quantity of silicon carbide to be commercially feasible.

The unique properties of silicon carbide offer the benefit of faster switching at higher power and energy efficiency, often eliminating expensive thermal management systems, which enable better performance in high performance electronic systems such as:

Transportation: High voltage/power applications such as hybrid or all-electric vehicles, industrial motors, locomotives, and power supplies requiring high voltage switches.
Communication: High frequency communications such as cell phone base stations, satellites and radar.
Power Supplies: Reduce the size and increase the energy efficiency and performance of computer power supplies, industrial power supplies and electrical grid systems.
Defense: High power and high voltage in power control and radio frequency devices used in air, ground, sea and space systems.
Lighting: Opto-electronics for blue laser diodes for the next generation of high density optical storage and white light emitting diodes.
Spacecraft and satellites, NASA is researching ways to use silicon carbide to reduce spacecraft launch weights and increase satellite functional capacities.
Silicon carbide is also proving valuable in silicon chip manufacturing, Johns said. In certain applications silicon carbide can be used to form very thin, non-crystalline films. This technology enables improved impurity barrier capabilities, which improves device reliability, and allows smaller chip sizes or more transistors on the same size chip.

“Silicon carbide technology is creating quite a bit of excitement,” Johns said. “We’re looking at what could be revolutionary improvements in the cost, size, weight and performance of a wide range of military and commercial microelectronic systems.”

Dow Corning Compound Semiconductor Solutions, LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Corning Corporation. Dow Corning provides performance-enhancing solutions to serve the diverse needs of more than 25,000 customers worldwide. A global leader in silicon-based technology and innovation, offering more than 7,000 products and services, Dow Corning is equally owned by The Dow Chemical Company and Corning, Incorporated.
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