Robert Jorgenson, CEO
Display panel technology has undergone a revolution in the last few years. From LED to OLED— businesses are continuously striving to address the growing demand for brighter and more power-efficient displays. The next big evolution in this field is undoubtedly MicroLED that uses millions of tiny individually addressable LEDs to lower the chance of burn-in. In fact, reports estimate that the global micro- LED market size will grow from $409 million in 2020 to $18,835 million by 2026, at a CAGR of 89.3 percent. Despite such a wide adoption of MicroLEDs, researchers and experts believe that this technology is still in its nascent stage. This technology immaturity coupled with cost barriers and supply chain incompletion hinders the large-scale commercialization for MicroLED displays.
Organizations still lack the efficiency to convert electrical power to photons for MicroLEDs when they are made in these decreasing micro sizes. When the LED size is decreased to MicoLED sizes, problems with light beam distribution also arise. These issues with external quantum efficiency (EQE) degradation and beam shaping occurs when MicroLED size is reduced below <100 μm. Further, blue and green LEDs suffer from substantial amounts of light emitting from the sides of the MicroLED. This inability to control the beam shaping makes displays either very green or blue when not viewed from straight on. If these problems could be solved, this would greatly lower the amount of wafer area required to make the same number of LEDs having the same light efficacy. From this view of economics, to accelerate the adoption of MicroLEDs as the industry intends, these technical problems need to be solved.
This is where Lightwave Photonics (LPI) steps in.
Founded in 2007, the company is dedicated to commercializing advanced LED technology. They provide conductive, reflective, and lattice-matched templates wafers for subsequent epitaxial growth of Gallium Nitride-based light emitters. “We focus on the growth of alternating layers of cermets and Gallium Nitride to form conductive and reflecting Distributed Bragg Reflector (DBR) templates (wafers) for the subsequent growth of nitride-based LEDs,” says Robert Jorgenson, CEO, LPI. “This technology is important for the future of MicroLEDs to provide external quantum efficiency for device sizes that reach below 100nm.”
The Frontrunner of Innovation
The company’s primary offering is mirrored template wafers for MicroCavity MicroLEDs that enable LED customers to achieve sub-micron optical cavity thicknesses, improved device performance, and reduced manufacturing costs. Wafers with LPI’s solution can yield approximately a 4.8x greater number of devices per wafer with the same light generation efficiency compared to larger MicroLEDs. This increases MicroLEDs’ growth margin.
In this context, Jorgenson says, “Getting to lower temperature epitaxial growth for III-N’s is a problem.
We strive to connect the importance of a person’s day to day activities with the success of the company as well as networking with technical communities such as customers, partners, and colleges/ universities
People often complain about the limitations of depositing GaN-based materials upon a substrates made of a different materials (like silicon or sapphire) because of the differences in rates of thermal expansion/ contraction.”
LPI’s mirrored templates for the subsequent growth of LEDs allow LED companies to form epitaxial LED structures that can be later processed into MicroLEDs. “More importantly, the manufacturing is straight forward if clients have the knowhow of our processes. There is no need for rare post process processing beyond processes that all fabs house or for 2D architectures like 2D photonic crystals, lenses, angled mirrors,” adds Jorgenson. The beam shaping is also easy to control from a sharp beam to Lambertian and LPI’s processes run at much lower temperatures allowing for templates that are temperature sensitive (like CMOS).
There is currently a huge demand in making MicroLEDs that efficiently convert electrical energy to photons. At the same time, there are concerns about the quality of the emitted light. Although there is some overlap to the various solutions out there, LPI seems to have the corner on achieving both with one solution: cermet/GaN DBR mirrors. To be effective, these mirrors need three characteristics. First, they need to be reflective for the microcavity effects; secondly, they need to be conductive to provide electrical current to the light-emitting part of the MicroLED; finally, they need to be lattice-matched to InGaN so that the light-emitting part of the device can be best grown. “I do not see any other materials having these basic requirements. Some are close, but the manufacturing complications are barriers,” he adds. Moreover, down the road, LPI sees its materials processes being grown directly on templates of interest, like silicon-based CMOS.
Supporting the Next-Gen Augmented Reality
While LPI’s focus is on revamping the entire spectrum of the MicroLED market, MicroCavity MicroLEDs have all the potentials to change the face of the augmented reality market. Augmented reality glasses need a solid solution for their devices to work correctly in a non-bulky way. That’s why they require reliable manufacturing processes where beam shaping is a big concern—for ensuring the light emission from the top surface of the MicroLED and allowing the light to form a narrow beam like a projector. LPIs technology solves this problem as well without the use of lenses or mirrors.
Apart from such a cutting-edge, robust solution, LPI continually focuses on new materials and processes.
“We are living in an age of crystalline electronic materials but it’s not commonly discussed,” says Jorgenson. “If one wants to create market, a new function needs to be created; if you want a new function, a new crystal needs to be grown. This can be said for each color LED, laser diode, Vertical laser arrays, Vertical LED arrays, powers and speeds of transistors and diodes, RF filters, detectors for different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, efficient solar cells.” That’s why the company strives to explore new functionalities of materials and compares competing solutions (not competing companies). They invest time in understanding the feasibility of materials, cost of development and manufacturing, and emerging markets. LPI also never hesitates to garner inputs from industry leaders who understand the commercial and technical demands and strives to make the stalwarts understand the efficacy of their product.
This unique approach and urge for innovation are rightly backed by the culture that Jorgenson has built over the years. Nowadays, many companies are not pursuing the development of such fundamental technologies. Everyone knows the pressures of finance partners and departments pushing away from future income to focusing on streamlining existing ones ignoring the art of calculating risk. But, LPI has built a formula to shorten the bridge for future income to more immediate needs. For this reason, it has been a bright spot for some of the individuals in these uncomfortable positions. They have done the heavy-lifting and practiced the art of calculating risk and developing new fundamental technologies. “Additionally, at LPI, we strive to connect the importance of a person’s day to day activities with the success of the company as well as networking with technical communities such as customers, partners, and colleges/ universities,” Jorgenson explains.
“This culture forged with the technology expertise is driving LPI toward a promising future. The company is envisioning the integration of Silicon and Gallium Nitride devices as well as the development of red and infrared Nitride Based LEDs. They are talking with people that can help build production equipment around “our current processes.” LPI is also considering partnering with a production equipment company to commercialize this technology which will make it a torchbearer in the field of MicroLED mass adoption. They are also witnessing the advantage of using sputtering to make Nitride-based red and infrared devices. The low growth temperature of these materials is important to the integration within Silicon electronics for both thermal budgets and utilizing larger wafers where temperature-induced bowing is a yield problem.
“Now that the commercialization of this new device design is underway, LPI is focused on the rest of Nitride Materials system, including InGaN and AlGaN. Since Indium and Aluminum are already commonly sputtered in various industries, enabling the co-sputtering of Gallium allows for these other important compounds to be made for High Electron Mobility Transistors (HEMTs) and LEDs,” Jorgenson concludes.