Apple’s New iPhone Glass to Adopt VC-Funded Solar Technology

published: 2014-08-20 17:13 | editor: | category: News

An ion-implant machine that would allow solar makers to produce super-thin PV cells from crystalline silicon is attempted to be commercialized by the VC-funded startup. It was a wildly ambitious bet, and the company went from unstealthing in early 2012 to having its assets purchased for about $10 million by GT Advanced Technologies in late 2012. That might have been a record time from a public unveiling to abandoning the business. Meanwhile, Twin Creeks had raised more than $80 million from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital, Artis, and DAG Ventures.

At the time, GT was looking to use the acquired ion-implant technology for power semiconductors and possibly solar wafers, as well as thin sapphire laminates for touchscreens. Twin Creeks CEO Siva Sivaram said that about twenty people located in Boston are part of the transfer, writing to GTM that "the management of Twin Creeks supported the private sale and feels confident that GT is in an excellent position to commercialize this innovative technology."

That boilerplate phrase was actually prescient. This acquisition seems to have worked out extremely well for GT Advanced.

According to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, "The first sapphire display screens for the upcoming larger iPhone and smartwatch are expected to roll off production lines this month at a Mesa, Ariz., facility that Apple opened with materials manufacturer GT Advanced Technologies." Sapphire glass is significantly stronger and more scratch-resistant than the glass currently used in Apple's iPhones. "Apple is considering using sapphire screens in more expensive models of the two new, larger iPhones" that it plans to debut on September 9, according to reports.

The GT Advanced/Twin Creeks process is known as Proton-Induced Exfoliation (or PIE). A hydrogen ion or proton is accelerated to 1.2 million electron-volts and shot into a crystal material, where it settles at a finite depth. The hydrogen ions line up at that finite depth, where they are then heated, resulting in a wafer that cleaves right off the substrate along the crystalline plane. The proton energy determines how deep the protons go and therefore sets the thickness of the wafer.

According to GT Advanced's most recent earnings report, the Hyperion ion implant product is a tool for the "production of ultra-thin sapphire, silicon carbide and silicon laminates or templates," adding, "We continue to make excellent progress in these areas and have now exfoliated 26 micron thick sapphire lamina at a 6-inch diameter."

The CFO of GT, Raja Bal, said that the Hyperion sapphire laminates are targeted for production in 2015.

Twin Creeks' ion-implant machine:

 

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