What are Compound Semiconductors?

Next Generation Technology

Modern electronic products, from computers to smart phones, use silicon chips at their heart. As the name suggests, these chips are made from silicon, which is a highly abundant element found in sand.

With a single element, it is possible to scale-up the manufacturing process to make highly complex silicon chips in large volumes, and hence 80% of the world’s semiconductors use silicon.

The remaining 20% use compound semiconductors, which combine two or more elements from the periodic table to form a compound. For example, silicon (Si) and carbon (C) form silicon-carbide (SiC).

Outperforming Silicon

Although compound semiconductors are more complex to manufacture than silicon, they possess 3 properties that outperform silicon:

  • Power (power electronics for electric vehicles)
  • Speed (radio frequency for 5G and RADAR)
  • Light (photonics for optical fibre communications)

This is why CSA Catapult has three matching technical divisions, supported by Advanced Packaging. Those are Power Electronics, Photonics and RF & Microwave.

There are many ways of combining two or more elements from the periodic table, which creates a wide variety of semiconductor materials, each with unique properties.

Some of the more common compound semiconductors include: gallium-arsenide (GaAs), gallium-nitride (GaN), silicon carbide (SiC), indium-phosphide (InP) and even aluminium-gallium-indium-phosphide (AlGaInP).

Their unique properties mean that compound semiconductors are finding increasingly diverse applications, such as:

  • Electric vehicles: range extension requires highly efficient SiC.
  • 5G: GaN chips provide high speed data links for 5G.

Our goal is to help the compound semiconductor industry exploit advances in technologies and bring applications to life.

We have four dedicated technology laboratories specialising in the adoption of compound semiconductor applications.

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