Technology

A Fundamental Advantage in Technology:
The Power of Synthetic Diamond

At the core of our RF Power Amplifiers (RFPAs) and small satellites (or CubeSats) is a pioneering new invention: Gallium Nitride (GaN)-on-Diamond wafer technology. In 2003, Akash co-founder, Felix Ejeckam (then at Group4 Labs, Inc.), invented the idea of lifting GaN thin films from its original growth substrate (for example, Silicon) and transferring it to a synthetic CVD diamond substrate [1]. CVD diamond exhibits the highest thermal conductivity known to humans; at 1500+ W/mK, it is nearly four times that of copper or silicon carbide. This creative idea for the first time allows the power of diamond to be applied to high frequency (1 GHz+), high power (10W+) RF devices which are the basis of all radio telecommunications.

Conceptual process for making GaN-on-Diamond Wafers
Figure 1: Conceptual process for making GaN-on-Diamond Wafers

 

GaN-on-Diamond Wafers
Figure 2: 4-inch GaN-on-Diamond Wafers

GaN-on-Diamond RF Devices:
Beat the Heat

Bringing the GaN active device layers – the sort used in our RFPAs – to within tens of nanometers from diamond helps whisk heat away from the devices almost at the instant that it is generated. Heat is a primary cause of failure or underperformance in modern wireless electronics; reducing or eliminating heat from a chip’s core will significantly and positively impact thermal efficiency, BOM costs, system costs, system lifetimes, and lifetime costs [2-10].

4W Transistors on various GaN materials
Figure 3: Infrared images of operational GaN transistors on various substrates dissipating the same amount of power. GaN-on-Diamond is the coolest of the lot [4]. Similarly, GaN-on-Diamond could be used to operate at a hotter ambient temperature due to the reduced thermal rise between substrate and gate.

 

A wafer of GaN-on-Diamond RF devices
Figure 4: A wafer of GaN-on-Diamond RF devices [9, 10]

GaN-on-Diamond MMICs and Amplifiers:
How to Improve Size, Weight and Power

GaN-on-Diamond is the ultimate building block for an RF Power Amplifier; it gives the system designer a new thermal envelope to use for any number of product or system improvements. Performance benefits such as higher data transmission rates and greater picture resolution in a satellite are only part of the story: these Akash RFPAs can eliminate bulky heat sinks; enable smaller and more compact subsystem or system designs; enable greater system-wide efficiency by dissipating less thermal energy; or deliver previously unachievable levels of power from a power amplifier.

Raman thermography comparison
Figure 5: In a side-by-side Raman thermography tests [4,6], GaN-on-Diamond transistors showed a 40% (right box) and 80% (left box) reduction in gate temperature compared to GaN-on-SiC and GaN-on-Silicon respectively. This thermal reduction remained at 80% (blue vs. red line, left box) when compared to a GaN-on-Diamond with dislocation layers still embedded.

GaN-on-Diamond enabled CubeSats:
Power and Performance in a Small Package

Our vision is to enable, build and launch low-cost CubeSats with functionality and power density far exceeding that of much larger conventional satellites.

For the end-user or system operator, many performance boundaries will be broken and new ones set. Applications currently not contemplated will come to life. We hope to bring new services to market, among them 1 Tbps downlink data-rates, high definition streaming video, high-res multi-spectral imaging, powerful radars, and opportunities in “burst” communications that will enable new applications from consumer mobile to military.

CubeSat in Human Hands
Figure 6: Size of a CubeSat relative to a human hand; A 1U CubeSat is about 10cm x 10cm x 10cm in size.

Intellectual Property

Akash Systems holds over a dozen patents related to GaN-on-Diamond in the field of satellite communications.


Selected Published References

[1] “First GaN-on-Diamond transistor announced by Group4 Labs, Emcore, and AFRL” in Semiconductor Today, Aug 2, 2006. [Wafer maker: Group4 Labs, Inc.]

[2] D. I. Babic, Q. Diduck, P. Yenigalla, A. Schreiber, D. Francis, F. Faili, F. Ejeckam, J.G. Felbinger and L.F. Eastman, “GaN-on-diamond Field-Effect Transistors: from Wafers to Amplifier Modules”, MIPRO, 2010 Proceedings of the 33rd International Convention, Opatija, Croatia, 24-29 May 2010, pp. 60-66 [Wafer maker: Group4 Labs, Inc.]

[3] G.D. Via, J.G. Felbinger, J. Blevins, K. Chabak, G. Jessen, J. Gillespie, R. Fitch, A. Crespo, K. Sutherlin, B. Poling, S. Tetlak, R. Gilbert, T. Cooper, R. Baranyai, J.W. Pomeroy, M. Kuball, J.J. Maurer, and A. Bar-Cohen, “Wafer-Scale GaN HEMT Performance Enhancement by Diamond Substrate Integration” in 10th International Conference on Nitride Semiconductors, ICNS-10, August 25-30, 2013, Washington DC, USA. [Wafer maker: Group4 Labs, Inc.]

[4] D.C. Dumka, T.M. Chou, J.L. Jimenez, D.M. Fanning, D. Francis, F. Faili, F. Ejeckam, M. Bernardoni, J.W. Pomeroy, and M. Kuball, “Electrical and Thermal Performance of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs on Diamond Substrate for RF Applications” in 35th IEEE Compound Semiconductor IC Symposium (CSICS) Oct 13-16 2013, Monterey, CA, Section F.4. [Wafer maker: Group4 Labs, Inc.]

[5] D. I. Babic, Q. Diduck, P. Yenigalla, A. Schreiber, D. Francis, F. Faili, F. Ejeckam, J.G. Felbinger and L.F. Eastman, “GaN-on-diamond Field-Effect Transistors: from Wafers to Amplifier Modules”, MIPRO, 2010 Proceedings of the 33rd International Convention, Opatija, Croatia, 24-29 May 2010, pp. 60-66. [Wafer maker: Group4 Labs, Inc.]

[6] J. Pomeroya , M. Bernardonia , A. Saruaa , A. Manoia , D.C.Dumkab , D.M. Fanningb , M. Kuball, “Achieving the Best Thermal Performance for GaN-on-Diamond,” in 35th IEEE Compound Semiconductor IC Symposium (CSICS) Oct13-16 2013, Monterey, CA, Section H.4. [Wafer maker: De Beers (Element Six)]

[7] D. Altman, M. Tyhach, J. McClymonds, S. Kim, S. Graham, J. Cho, K. Goodson, D. Francis, F. Faili, F. Ejeckam, and S. Bernstein, “Analysis and Characterization of Thermal Transport in GaN GEMTs on SiC and Diamond Substrates,” GOMACTech 2014, Charleston SC, April 2014, in press. [Wafer maker: De Beers (Element Six)]

[8] B. Alvarez, D. Francis, F. Faili, F. Lowe, D. Twitchen, K.B. Lee and P. Houston, “Elimination of Leakage in GaN-on-Diamond” in 38th IEEE CSIC Symposium, Austin, TX, Oct 23rd -26th 2016, Sec G.2. [Wafer maker: De Beers (Element Six)]

[9] Felix Ejeckam, “Keeping Cool with Diamond”, in Compound Semiconductor Magazine, Vol. 20, Iss.7, October 2014 [Wafer maker: De Beers (Element Six)]

[10] F. Ejeckam, D. Francis, F. Faili, D.J. Twitchen, B. Bolliger, J. Felbinger, and D. Babic, “S2-T1: GaN-on-diamond: A brief history”, in Lester Eastman Conference on High Performance Devices (LEC), August 5-7 2014, DOI: 10.1109/LEC.2014.6951556. INSPEC Accession Number: 14775316