Three companies in the graphene business have been approved a European Innovation Council Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) project to help bring to the market the G-IMAGER, a graphene imager based on graphene-on-wafer technology. The G-Imager is a short-wave infrared (SWIR) detector for applications in semiconductor inspection, sorting systems, spectroscopy hyperspectral imaging and surveillance. The projected market size for SWIR cameras in 2020 is around $1 billion.
The ultimate challenge for wider application of SWIR imaging products is the high cost of SWIR detectors, which are today primarily manufactured with InGaAs technology. The high price is related to the complex manufacturing of InGaAs that also prevents increase of the detector production volumes. Now Graphenea Semiconductor SL, Emberion Oy, and AMO GmbH are embarked on a course to construct and market the G-Imager which will bring the core price down significantly , allowing market volumes to multiply manifold.
The G-Imager will be based on the scientifically proven operation of a graphene channel coupled to nanocrystal light absorbers. The nanocrystals serve the function of strong light absorbers for high efficiency, whereas the graphene channel efficiently transports the generated charge to electrical contacts for detection. The benefits of G-Imager compared to other SWIR detectors, apart from the dramatic cost reduction, will be a lack of cooling requirements, low noise, large dynamic range, broad spectral range and scalable pixel size. These benefits guarantee quick market uptake of the product beyond the project duration, which is 24 months.
The business opportunity for the G-Imager is evident. SWIR detector customers typically observe major potential to increase device purchase volumes, however the price of current solutions is a put off. To bring G-Imager to the market, the project consortium will have to tackle challenges related to maturing the innovation. Namely, the production process yield for the detectors meeting a specified set of quality requirements must be guaranteed at a minimum of 85%, which is an industry standard. The technology readiness level must be raised to level 8, while scaling up the production process to meet volume requirements. Graphenea will scale up production of 200mm graphene-on-wafers to 10,000 wafers/year. A key project goal is integration into semiconductor production processes, such that G-Imager production is compatible with demanding requirements of the foundries where high-volume semiconductor device production takes place, like the foundry at AMO GmbH. AMO will develop a new “graphene device foundry service” to industrialize production of the photodetector. Development of established design rules and other parameters for graphene processing through this project will shorten the time to market for other optoelectronic applications of graphene as well. The SWIR detector production will be finalized at Emberion, where VGA resolution imager products will be made by depositing and patterning photosensitive materials on the graphene devices. Product finalization includes encapsulation, dicing and packaging the final imager products and integrating them into Emberion’s camera core products.
The project will demonstrate an affordable high-performance camera for VIS-SWIR imaging that will allow bringing SWIR detection into much higher volumes than today, enabling new applications in the areas of night and machine vision. Night vision is used primarily for various surveillance applications, example for border security or search-and-rescue applications at sea, and machine vision is used for example in the food supply chain to ensure food quality “from field to fork”. The consortium expects the project to assist in raising the cumulative net income of the consortium members to 60M€ in 4 years.
The Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) is a fully-bottom-up innovation support programme of the European Commission promoting close-to-the-market innovation activities open to industry-driven consortia. It can help partners to co-create and test breakthrough products, services or business processes that have the potential to revolutionize existing or create entirely new markets, under the helm of the new European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 820591