Lighting Up Semiconductor Manufacturing
Anne Nasato posted on July 11, 2016 |
Engineers use light to remove defects in semiconductors for better solar panels and LED bulbs.
Engineering researchers are literally bringing light to the manufacturing of semiconductors for better products. It was discovered that using light in the manufacturing of semiconductors can actually create more robust and efficient semiconductors. Furthermore, in understanding the role of light through these processes, the manufacturing methods and untapped capabilities of materials can also be further understood.


Bringing to Light the Strengths of Semiconductors

Adding light while firing the processing semiconductor material in a furnace at high temperatures generates extra electrons. This, in turn, changes the composition of the material. Through running simulations of the process, it was discovered that firing the material in a dark furnace does produce a material with different properties.

The effect of shining light on this material is beneficial and results in the suppression of defects. Such defects may include difficulties in controlling the conductivity of the material, difficulties in the ability to efficiently convert sunlight into electrical energy and difficulties with the efficient emission of light.

University of Utah materials science and engineering associate professor Mike Scarpulla stands next to a solar panel made of the compound semiconductor, cadmium telluride. (Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering.)
University of Utah materials science and engineering associate professor Mike Scarpulla stands next to a solar panel made of the compound semiconductor, cadmium telluride.
(Image courtesy of University of Utah College of Engineering.)
Semiconductors are pure materials. While this theory applies to all semiconductors, it is most useful for compound semiconductors. Such materials may be composed of gallium arsenide, cadmium telluride or gallium nitride.

These are useful in a variety of applications, but due to their multichemical elemental makeups, they have increased susceptibility to atomic-scale material defects. As previously mentioned, shining a light throughout the manufacturing of these materials reduces the defects encountered.


Shedding Light on the Future of Semiconductors

Historically, it was believed that the amount of defects in semiconductors was determined by the processing conditions, especially in terms of temperature and pressure. This discovery works light into the fundamentals of semiconductor processing.

The next steps involve testing the predictions made by simulations in order to produce better semiconductors. It is believed that this could improve solar panel efficiency with cadmium telluride thin films, as well as silicon films. In addition to solar panels, these improvements will likely be felt across the manufacturing of computer chips and light-emitting diodes.

The engineering researchers behind this development represent the University of Utah as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

For further reading on photovoltaics, check out this article on record-setting efficiencies.

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