Compound semiconductors? Expensive, only come into question where silicon is by no means sufficient, nothing but niche, according to the standard opinion. "But that's no longer true!" says IQE CEO Americo Lemos. "They are moving into the mainstream."
IQE has its work cut out for it: create a global ecosystem around compound semiconductors - laying the groundwork for emerging markets from LiDAR and ADAS to renewable energy, infrastructure, and the metaverse. Americo Lemos, CEO of IQE since January, is brimming with optimism: from many rapidly developing markets - e-mobility, 5G, metaverse, renewable energies, high-frequency technology - come requirements in terms of performance and quality that can only be met by components manufactured based on compound semiconductors: "The market is approaching us with giant strides!" says Lemos. He is even already thinking about becoming the TSMC in the market for compound semiconductors, but more on that later.
After all, his optimism is well founded. For example, the demand for optoelectronic components has increased sharply, and these components are manufactured primarily based on III-V compound semiconductors such as GaAs, GaN, and InP, but also based on SiGe - and IQE specializes in the production of such epi wafers. Components manufactured on them include VCSELs (Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers), which are used in 3D sensing - for example in smartphones - and LiDAR systems in cars.
200-mm wafer for VCSELs - a breakthrough
IQE recently achieved a technical breakthrough in this field: IQE is the first company to supply germanium-based epi-wafers with a diameter of 200 mm on which VCSELs are manufactured. "Now, many more VCSELs can be produced on one wafer than was possible with the 150-mm wafers that were previously used, which will significantly reduce costs. This will allow manufacturers to target new market sectors that go far beyond 3D sensing in smartphones and LiDAR in cars," Lemos is convinced. LiDAR will emerge as a critical technology for the entire transportation industry, he said.
No metaverse without µLEDs
Likewise, he is convinced that demand for µLEDs will grow strongly over the next period - the advantages of screens built from µLEDs are unbeatable compared to conventional technologies, and in particular, they would also be suitable for use in AR/VR glasses, which experts in the metaverse believe will be the coming high-volume product that will overtake the smartphones of today. "It's a whole new class of device, and the epitaxial steps are the prerequisite for its success because they determine the quality of the µLEDs," Lemos said. As a result, he said, µLED manufacturers will be looking for suppliers who can provide the appropriate substrates.
These markets will develop rapidly over the next few years, just as is already the case in some sectors: whether for the powertrain in cars, for infrastructure, or communications - power and RF components are needed everywhere, which is driving demand for compound semiconductors such as GaN up enormously right now: no new energy world without III-V substrates.
This is all good news for IQE, which has focused on nothing but compound semiconductors for more than 30 years. "I am continually amazed by the knowledge and expertise that employees have accumulated since IQE was founded in 1988," Lemos enthuses. That, in turn, has enabled IQE to "offer by far the most comprehensive roadmap among epitaxial compound semiconductor manufacturers today," he says. “From GaAs to GaN and all other relevant III-V combinations, everything is now included."
The company now has eight production sites around the world: in Asia (Taiwan), the USA (Massachusetts and others), and Europe (Cardiff, Newport, Milton Keynes) - according to Lemos, this is also a unique selling point in addition to the deep technical expertise: "We are the only manufacturer with fabs in all regions of the world. Even the world's largest silicon foundry does not currently have this global presence!" he proudly explains.