Nantero, SVTC make available carbon-nanotube-based electronics manufacturing

June 4, 2008—Nantero Inc., a nanotechnology company using carbon nanotubes (CNTs) for the development of next-generation semiconductor devices, has announced a collaboration with SVTC Technology to accelerate the commercialization of nanotube-based electronics products. Nantero has developed a “CMOS-friendly” proprietary CNT process that it will install at SVTC’s two development fabs, in San Jose, Calif., and Austin, Texas.

The development builds on Brewer Science’s announcement, made last year during Semicon West, that it had commercialized the industry’s first microelectronics-grade carbon nanotube coating . Brewer manufactures the material, and under a technology license from Nantero, is the exclusive manufacturer and supplier of microelectronics-grade CNT coating for Nantero’s NRAM field of uses.

“What Brewer announced at Semicon West last year is that carbon nanotubes can be properly put into suspension, and patterned and etched in the standard way,” explained Scott Marquardt of SVTC during an exclusive interview with Small Times. “Our announcement says that the technology is now available to any company, fab or fabless.” And, he added, “people can integrate the carbon nanotube process into new or current projects.”

Trying out the CNT-based processes, says Marquardt, “would be complicated otherwise for IDMs” (integrated device manufacturers). “At SVTC they can try [the material] out.”

By making Nantero’s proprietary CNT process available at SVTC’s development fabs, the two companies hope to enable potential licensees of Nantero to develop and commercialize the use of CNTs in SVTC’s IP-secure environment. Due to their novel properties (e.g., extraordinary strength, unique electrical properties, and efficient heat conduction), CNTs hold tremendous promise for a variety of semiconductor, nanotechnology and optics applications.

“By placing our CNT process module at SVTC, we are now able to support multiple co-development relationships across a growing array of CMOS-grade CNT devices,” said Greg Schmergel, CEO of Nantero. “Our development partners now have the opportunity to develop CNT products with us in a third-party environment utilizing state-of-the-art capabilities that will transfer efficiently to their own production environments.”

Schmergel told Small Times that, “Brewer’s announcement said that the material is finally available. This announcement says that the foundry is available.” He explained that the announcement is being made by Nantero and SVTC without Brewer’s involvement because, while Brewer is currently the only company licensing Nantero’s technology for this purpose, and customers can buy the CMOS-friendly CNT material only from Brewer, theoretically customers can buy the material from other suppliers.

Schmergel noted that over time, he expects to partner with other foundries especially overseas, but that, at least in the U.S., SVTC is the biggest R&D fab.
Asked about customers exploring use of the material already, Schmergel identified On Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard, and BAE. There are others, he says, “but none we can disclose.” He mentioned, though, that a number of companies in MEMS have found the material useful for solving problems or enhancing products. “One company that we’ve worked with makes CNT-based sensors to detect diseases,” he said, explaining that the nanotubes enabled smaller, cheaper sensors than before, that would be packaged for sale in local pharmacies for self testing.

The companies’ collaboration fits well with SVTC’s broader mission to enable commercialization of new process and device developments in the semiconductor, MEMS and related nanotechnology domains with support for a direct path between the work completed in SVTC’s facilities to high-volume manufacturing. CNTs represent an ideal area for SVTC because, currently, there is a huge gap between the promise of carbon nanotubes as demonstrated in research labs and their translation into commercial products that can be manufactured in high volumes.

Together, Nantero and SVTC can offer CNT device development capabilities for customers targeting a wide range of applications including photovoltaics (solar cells), LEDs, sensors, MEMS and other semiconductor-based devices.

According to Schmergel, Nantero is “growing dramatically, and hiring.” The company now employs more than 60 people, and had just 30 employees two years ago. “All our growth is funded by customer work,” he said—not by venture funding.

SVTC, by the way, recently announced a new photovoltaics-development initiative.

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