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Global microchip shortage: unique crystal growth technology by NSYSU Center of Crystal Research upgrades Taiwan’s semiconductor industry

2021-05-31

The global market is facing a severe shortage of microchips! The much-needed third-generation semiconductor material, the silicon carbide (SiC) crystals, is challenging to manufacture, hence the supply shortage. The Center of Crystal Research at National Sun Yat-sen University is leading the research in equipment and technologies for crystal growth and manufacturing silicon carbide crystals at a high temperature exceeding 2200°C. The Center is the only research center in Taiwan with production capability for 6 to 8-inch wafers. The high-quality crystals are entirely made in Taiwan (MIT), helping to upgrade the semiconductor industry in Taiwan.

"Third-generation semiconductors are on the top of the supply chain pyramid in the semiconductor industry and are the only part lacking in Taiwan now." Chair Professor of the Department of Materials and Optoelectronic Science and Director of the Center Dr. Mitch Chou said that Taiwan’s semiconductor industry is unique globally and holds the lead in foundry manufacturing. However, the 5G high-frequency communications and electric automotive sectors in Taiwan are impeded by the lack of third-generation semiconductor materials such as SiC and gallium nitride (GaN). In addition, Dr. Chou pointed out that the reason for the lack of SiC and GaN crystal manufacturing development in Taiwan is because their production requires a “high level of technical expertise, time and experience.” The fact is that companies currently on the market purchase their furnaces instead of developing them in-house, so the hot zones are not appropriately set up and cause low yield rates.

Professor Chou emphasized that the Center has overcome technical difficulties under the tremendous support from the Department of Natural Sciences and Sustainable Development of the Ministry of Science and Technology and funding from the Higher Education SPROUT Project of the Ministry of Education, and is now capable of growing silicon carbide crystals. Specifically, the key to the breakthrough was the R&D team designing the crystal-growing furnace and developing the technology entirely in-house, not relying on foreign manufacturers.

“NSYSU’s Center of Crystal Research will be a part of upgrades of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry.” Professor Mitch Chou said that the research and development of third-generation semiconductor materials greatly influence whether Taiwan would remain the leader in the next generation of semiconductors and further impact the development of economic, political, military and national defense affairs around the globe. Especially during this crucial moment, the Center will fulfill its social responsibility as part of the University and share the core technology of silicon carbide crystal growth with industries in Taiwan to speed up the upgrading process and solidify Taiwan’s leading role in the global semiconductor industry.

Professor Chou further explained that the Circular Economy and Industry Innovation Project of the Ministry of Economic Affairs accelerated the upgrading of Taiwan's industries by establishing the Kaohsiung Special Zone for Circular Technology and Advanced Material R&D District. The semiconductor innovative development production bases are located in Luzhu and Qiaotou in the Southern Taiwan Science Park. Along the same line, the Center will cooperate with two major corporations to develop upstream materials/devices such as high purity silicon carbide powder, crucibles, thermal insulators. The Center will focus on developing silicon carbide crystal growth and production equipment know-how. Further, the technology will then be transferred to a private company to concentrate on silicon carbide crystal growth and crystal slicing, grinding, and polishing; all three parties will work closely towards establishing a company specializing in silicon carbide crystal growth. The Center is also working with the International College of Materials, led by NSYSU, and incorporates such topics into the curriculum as the general synthesis of raw materials and crystal growth to cultivate talents for the third-generation semiconductor industry.
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