“Virtuous cycle” for ICs, LCD applies to PV too


Moore’s Law predicts the supply side of ICs, but the demand side can be understood as a “virtuous cycle” of technology advancement, lower costs, and rising demand leading to reinvestment. This same principle is in play for the emerging market for photovoltaics (PV), noted Gilad Almogy, senior VP of Applied Materials, in his opening keynote session at SPIE.

Gordon Moore’s “law” predicted the number of transistors on a chip would double every 12-18 months. As transistor output doubled, costs dropped, which led to lower prices for ICs. As prices dropped, markets expanded rapidly; applications spread from computers to notebooks to games, to innovative devices like the iPod, and many other uses. As IC markets grew, the industry invested in technology, and learned how to lower costs — and as costs went down, demand grew, which funded more investment, which lowered costs, and so on. This “virtuous cycle,” Almogy noted, has continued for over 40 years.

About 20 years ago, the liquid-crystal display (LCD) began a similar cycle, launched by the market for notebook computers. By borrowing key technologies from the IC industry, the LCD business was able to launch faster; the FPD market also drove rapid cost reduction by increasing the size of the glass substrate every two years, sometimes sooner.

The same virtuous cycle can be launched in the thin-film PV solar market, explained Almogy. Applied Materials has taken deposition tool and process development from its FPD business to PV. Large glass sheets are used for solar panels, and many process steps (and costs) are eliminated by a thin-film process. By generating the same kind of virtuous cycle seen in IC and FPD markets, the PV market should grow rapidly to a scale where it will be self-sustaining. — G.R.