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080429: SAFC Hitech opens modular scalable plant
Ed’s Threads 080429
Musings by Ed Korczynski on April 29, 2008

SAFC Hitech opens modular scalable plant
A trusted supplier of specialty materials for semiconductor manufacturing must have great safety, control, and smarts. These specialty chemicals include precursors for growth and deposition, photoresist and slurry additives, as well as CMP, ECD, encapsulation, packaging and assembly, fuel cell, PV, and energy storage materials. Custom molecules must be specially design, assembled, refined, and packaged, and each step requires expert knowledge.

Part of Sigma-Aldrich, SAFC Hitech raked in >$70M of sales in 2007, ~$40M of which came from the Epichem business it acquired in February 2007. Epichem had established a unique business proposition as a total supply chain partner to compound semiconductor manufacturers, yet lacked the resources and expertise to scale up to silicon manufacturing scales.

SAFC has plenty of manufacturing scale, and now even more so with the $9M investment into a new production plant in beautiful Sheboygan, WI. Each plant is multipurpose and reconfigurable by design, with room for expansion depending upon demand. As a result, SAFC Hitech is uniquely positioned to be able to supply specialty materials on annual scales of hundreds of kilos to a few tons.


SAFC distillation columns in one safety-isolated “cell” in the new Sheboygan, WI specialty materials manufacturing plant. (Source: SAFC)

The facility has been designed with deep experience in the best practices of specialty chemicals production. Each “cell” in the facility (see Figure) is designed and constructed to ensure safety in setting up flexible capacity to purify highly toxic and reactive chemistries. A concrete cell is roughly the footprint of a standard trade-show booth (~10m2) with >5m ceilings to allow for tall columns. All potential spark sources are removed from each cell. Production manager James Bilitz noted that a bucket of alcohol could be thrown on the floor and it would not ignite.

The filling, packaging, and analysis facility was custom-designed from the ground up to ensure purity in packaging of ampules and tanks. Several innovative techniques eliminate as many sources of metallic contamination as possible: walls and ceilings formed from welded PVC, a custom vacuum oven to dry containers, and sophisticated purge/fill systems inside of custom UHPA hoods. A state-of-the-art mass-spectrometer is used to confirm that individual metal contamination levels are kept in the sub-parts-per-trillion range.

SAFC expects the construction and operational experiences learned with the new Sheboygan facility will provide a blueprint for future expansion in overseas markets, particularly in China and South Korea.

Geoff Irvine, SAFC Hitech's commercial development and marketing director, explained that chemical innovation will be needed more and more to allow the industry to move forward. “We have people in the CMP space and ARC space coming to us asking us to make specialty materials,’ he said, adding that the company also does “a lot of private label manufacturing.” Services offered range from molecular design to process development optimization/scale up and commercial manufacturing; analysis; raw material sourcing and characterization; and even things like vendor audits, hazard evaluation, packaging design, and regulatory filings.

Complex molecules can be toxic, explosive, unstable, and generally very tricky to work with when breaking them down in use, and it’s all more difficult when building them up through chemical synthesis pathways. Also, a molecule that breaks down in shipping or storage tends to form particles. ALD processes use highly reactive chemistries that instantly degrade if exposed to oxygen or water vapor, for example, so extremes of environmental control are needed in the chemical engineering of ALD precursors. “We go to great lengths to create wonderfully complex molecules which our customers destroy as soon as they get them,” quipped Peter Heys, SAFC Hitech R&D director and former head of Epichem.

The company is central to the semiconductor manufacturing industry with customers in precursor R&D as well as large-scale production, but if pressed to name just one core competency, “it’s our ability to handle difficult materials,” proclaimed SAFC president Frank Wicks. “For example, our high-potency materials have to be manufactured in glove boxes. People generally don’t like to work with these materials and that’s good for us.” It’s good for the whole industry that SAFC likes to do this ever more essential work.

E.K.

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080414: Energy Costs mean externalities matter
Ed’s Threads 080414
Musings by Ed Korczynski on April 14, 2008

Energy Costs mean externalities matter
What do the words “Energy” and “Costs” have to do with materials considerations in 2008? The most recent issue of the Materials Research Society (MRS) Bulletin has just been released and it’s a special issue devoted to exploring all aspects—including costs—of materials science and engineering for energy. Many fine companies like Applied Materials sponsored the issue being made free to the public at the MRS website, and at minimum all adults should read “The Economics of Energy Options” by Lester B. Lave of Carnegie-Mellon University.

Energy” is an amazing word. Normally defined as the “ability to do work,” we might define “work” as the “ability of use energy”…so the more you study it the more you find circular logic. To further confuse things, we talk about “potential” energy and “kinetic” energy and “random” energy and “surface” energy and “renewable” energy too. Because the term has vague and overlapping definitions, people tend to use the term as they see fit without considering how other people might be using the term.

“Costs” seems like a simple word until you consider “my” cost versus “our” cost…which is the simple way of framing the discussion of economic “externality” wherein I profit by making you pay for some of my cost. ROHS is an example of a topic that is clearly foolish or clearly wise depending upon where you draw the line for the limits of your system: if you only consider your system to be electronics design, manufacturing, distribution, and sales then eliminating lead from PCBs just adds cost and risk. If, however, you consider your system to be society as a whole and include electronics recycling, landfill maintenance, and human health care expenses then eliminating hazardous substances from electronics should reduce overall costs.

“Many of the energy decisions that U.S. residents currently make are conditioned by the subsidies that energy has enjoyed. Until the 1970s, there were few rules requiring companies to abate the air pollution emissions from burning fossil fuels. Fuel was sufficiently abundant that prices were extremely low. Coal and oil were extracted with little thought or care for environmental quality,” says Lave. “As a result, huge social costs were incurred through environmental degradation and the resulting ill health.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a study titled “The Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act, 1970 to 1990,” estimated that abating air pollution had benefits of $22 trillion compared to abatement costs of $523 billion; thus, benefits were more than 40 times greater than costs.

“The costs of U.S. foreign and defense policies to secure large amounts of inexpensive petroleum have not been charged to the imported energy. Consumers made decisions on what car to buy, what size residence to buy, and what temperature to set the thermostat on the basis of artificially lowered prices. Subsidizing a product encourages its use. Thus, the energy policy of the United States has encouraged energy use beyond what it would have been if the price had reflected full social cost,” concluded Lave.

I was born in Detroit (“Motor City”) and still enjoy motor sports, and I’m more than willing to pay $5/gal for gasoline to fuel my fun machines. From first principles of power-to-weight, electric motors should out-torque and out-fun internal combustion engines, but historic batteries had limited life and range and so for 100 years we have been waiting for convenient electric cars to arrive

Philips in The Netherlands is leading research into new storage technologies for electricity, using 3D trenches in silicon to massively increase the surface area of solid-state rechargeable batteries. This technology derived from silicon IC STI etching could be used in small 3D integrated electronics systems, or potentially even in automobiles.

Lave’s article mentions the need for improved battery technology as part of our desired energy future. “A battery that could power a vehicle for 30–40 miles (48–64 km) and be recharged from an electricity outlet would save about two-thirds of gasoline use. Because only about 2% of electricity is generated from petroleum, if all automobiles and light trucks were plug-in hybrids, more than one-half of oil imports could be eliminated."

The whole debate over the “true” costs of energy centers on where we draw the line on our system, and this is clearly seen in the debate over “solar subsidies.” What is the grid cost of electricity where you live? How much is subsidized directly or indirectly by your government? Do you have to pay a huge upfront cost for your home or are major infrastructure investments absorbed by someone else and you just pay per month? All of these questions relate to the issue of government subsidies to encourage private investment in photovoltaic solar panels.

Meanwhile, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced that recent advances in solar technology combined with a new five-year mega-scale investments allows for costs to drop by one-half. “This project will turn two square miles of unused commercial rooftops into advanced solar generating stations,” said John E. Bryson, Edison International chairman and CEO. “We hope to have the first solar rooftops in service by August. The sunlight power will be available to meet our largest challenge – peak load demands on the hottest days.”

You can put it in my backyard.

—E.K.

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080407: CNT and graphene dreams may be real
Ed’s Threads 080407
Musings by Ed Korczynski on April 7, 2008

CNT and graphene dreams may be real
Carbon nano-tubes (CNT) are the only viable (pun-intended) new materials being developed to replace copper as the electrical interconnects for future ICs. There are no known room-temperature superconductors, and optical interconnects require relatively slow and expensive lasers and detectors, and CNTs are the future. The theory and practice of growing CNTs was thoroughly reviewed at this spring’s Materials Research Society (MRS) meeting, and the applications as electronic IC interconnects will be seen at the International Interconnect Technology Conference (IITC) to be held in Burlingame, California in June. The deadline for submitting late news to IITC is this Friday.

Carbon can form an amazing variety of stable crystals and molecules based on different bond energies and angles between atoms. In crystalline form, sp2 electron orbitals can form 2D planes of graphite or sp3 electron orbitals can form 3D tetrahedral of diamond. The 2D form of solid carbon shows very interesting properties when reduced down to less than a few atomic layers.

Graphene is one or two atomic layers only, which results in geometrically induced electron energy-band modification and the ability to form semiconducting devices. Graphene is a great potential “long-shot” technology first reported in January 2006 Solid State Technology…sure to generate many Ph.D. theses and likely to benefit DARPA programs…but still quite a way away from proven as commercially manufacturable. As Gordon Moore reminds us in this recent interview, “The actual idea of an MOS transistor was patented in the mid-'20s,” though it was not until over 40 years later that Intel started making a business out of it.

Take 60 carbon atoms and you can coax them together into a cage-like spheroid called a “buckyball” or fullerene (C60)—initially predicted by R. Buckminster Fuller based on the potential for stable bond-angles in regular polyhedra—which has the same 2D form as graphene. Larger and more complex carbon cage molecules can be formed, and seem to be formed naturally by stars in space. Take a continuous supply of carbon atoms and you can coax them together using a catalyst particle into growing as a nano-tube with that same basic 2D form. You can grow both single-walled CNT (SWCNT) and multi-walled CNT (MWCNT). Both grow off of metal catalyst particles, which must somehow first be deposited in the bottom of vias to form interconnects between lines; making the connection on the top side seems like it will be inherently a bit tricky.

At IITC this year, researchers from MIRAI-Selete and Waseda University (Japan) will show actual integration results for CNT in 160nm diameter vias at temperatures as low as 365°C. The team will report that the CNT fabrication process didn’t degrade a fragile low-k (2.6) dielectric and that the vias sustained a current density as high as 5.0 MA/cm2 at 105°C for 100 hours with no deterioration.

SEM cross-sections of 160nm-diameter CNT vias fabricated with growth temperatures of (a) 450°C and (b) 400°C (IITC2008 Paper #12.4, “Robustness of CNT Via Interconnect Fabricated by Low Temperature Process over a High-Density Current,” A. Kawabata et al.)

One of the reasons that MRS meetings are exciting for materials scientists and engineers is that truly leading results are shown. Oleg Kuznetsov et al.—from Honda Research Institute in Columbus OH (USA) and Goteborg University (Sweden) and Duke University (USA)—presented information on the size-dependence peculiarities of small catalyst clusters and their effect on SWCNT growth. Though exact mechanisms are not fully understood yet, we know that nano-scale catalysts particles play key roles in growth, and that sizes alter growth properties. The general background assumption is a vapor-liquid-solid (VLS) model for growth: carbon in the vapor phase is absorbed into the catalyst particle as a liquid from which solid SWCNT grows out. An observed ‘paradox’ is that with decrease of catalyst size from 3nm to 1nm the required minimum temperature for SWCNT growth increases. Molecular dynamics simulations revealed that reducing the catalyst particle size reduces its solubility of carbon atoms and thereby requires higher temperature for SWCNT growth.

Since the researchers used Fe as the catalyst for SWCNT growth, their rigorous modeling work included a re-working of the classic Fe-C phase diagram where they showed that SWCNTs grow in a liquidous region above the Eutectic point. The Fe-C phase diagram is arguably the foundation of modern materials engineering, since it shows how to make the varieties of steel which are the physical backbone of construction in our age, and is taught in all undergraduate materials science courses. While I haven’t been looking very hard, but this is the first time I’ve seen something new in a Fe-C phase diagram since I left MIT in 1984.

—E.K.

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080407: CNT and graphene dreams may be real

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Joel Cook said...

I had always understood that the discoverers of the fullerenes (Curl, Kroto and Smalley) named C60 "Buckminsterfullerene" since the structure they elucidated resembled one of his geodesic domes. I had never understood that Buckminster Fuller had predicted the C60 allotrope of carbon a priori as you state.

Wed Apr 09, 08:06:00 AM PDT  
Blogger SST's Ed's Threads said...

Hi Joel: While I cannot comment on what the discoverers of the fullerenes knew of Fuller's work (so they may have only known of geodesic domes), Fuller predicted the 60-atom structure would be a stable molecule based on first principles of what he called "synergetics" (http://www.bfi.org/our_programs/who_is_buckminster_fuller/synergetics) without predicting that carbon would be the first element shown in this form. Of course, the geodesic dome was first shown only because Fuller had used synergetics principles...he did not discover the geodesic dome first and then derive an explanation for how it could be stable...he conceived of a stable structure from first principles and then showed it.

Wed Apr 09, 12:07:00 PM PDT  

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Ed's Threads is the weekly web-log of SST Sr. Technical Editor Ed Korczynski's musings on the topics of semiconductor manufacturing technology and business. Ed received a degree in materials science and engineering from MIT in 1984, and after process development and integration work in fabs, he held applications, marketing, and business development roles at OEMs. Ed won editorial awards from ASBPE, including interviews with Gordon Moore and Jim Morgan, and is not lacking for opinions.