Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Nanoelectronics June 2017 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Guy Garrud

Graphene Quantum Dots

By Alastair Cunningham
Cunningham is an independent consultant specializing in nanomaterials and electronics.

Why is this topic significant?

Graphene and quantum dots are each generating considerable excitement in the field of nanoelectronics. Researchers are now investing time, effort, and finances into developing the field of graphene quantum dots.

Description

In January 2017, specialty-materials manufacturer Strem Chemicals and quantum-dots-production start-up Dotz Nano announced the signing of a licensing agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, Strem Chemicals will become a global distributor of Dotz Nano's graphene quantum dots, holding the materials in inventory for resale to clients ranging across industry, academia, and government research laboratories. Dotz Nano's materials are unique in that the company uses coal as the raw material in the manufacturing process. Other manufacturers use graphite, incurring significant additional costs. For comparison, high-quality graphite costs approximately $2,000 per ton compared with only $10 to $60 per ton for coal.

Furthermore, in February 2017, Dotz Nano announced the successful completion of a proof-of-concept study in collaboration with Kyung Hee University in South Korea. Building on a 2014 partnership between the university and Samsung Electronics, the research uses Dotz Nano's quantum dots in flash memory, with the devices demonstrating a "promising performance." Kyung Hee University and Dotz Nano are now engaging in "advanced negotiations" to sign a full licensing agreement for this technology.

Implications

Dotz Nano is clearly aiming to exploit its unique technology and processes and become the dominant player in the market for graphene quantum dots. This market remains in its infancy but, as a result of high profit margins, could prove to be highly lucrative. Partnering with a materials supplier with an established distribution network is likely to be the quickest route to commercialization for Dotz Nano. The deal with Strem Chemicals will raise the profile of Dotz Nano and its materials, potentially leading to further deals or sales. Dotz Nano's possession of key pieces of intellectual property—a highly competitive area for other classes of quantum dots—will also prove crucial for commercial success.

The Kyung Hee development is another example of how Dotz Nano could encourage growth in this field. Having a partner or customer develop a killer application with its materials could essentially create a market that it has the unique ability to supply. Flash memory could potentially be that application, and the university apparently revisited this project only after the introduction of the cost-efficient Dotz Nano materials.

Impacts/Disruptions

The use of quantum dots in televisions to achieve high-quality color palettes at a fraction of the cost of competing technologies turned the display industry on its head. The introduction of low-cost, high-performance alternatives could, ultimately, have a similarly large impact across a number of industrial sectors. Beyond the display industry and data storage, quantum dots already, or could potentially, see use in applications such as medical imaging, lighting, sensing, energy storage, and photovoltaics. In addition, graphene quantum dots do not contain any heavy metals such as cadmium, meaning that they will not fall foul of increasingly strict regulations designed to curb the use of other materials.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Semiconductors, consumer electronics, data storage, display, health care, lighting, photovoltaics, sensors

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Silicon Nanomaterials

By Alastair Cunningham
Cunningham is an independent consultant specializing in nanomaterials and electronics.

Why is this topic significant?

Silicon underpins the entire electronics industry. However, novel forms of nanoscale silicon—formed primarily through bottom-up processes—are set to have an increasingly large impact as the technology matures. Several recent examples of research indicate that commercialization of silicon nanomaterials is becoming an increasingly likely prospect.

Description

In March 2017, researchers from the Technical University of Munich released the results of their research into the fabrication of polymer-coated silicon nanosheets. This is the first example of a nanocomposite based on silicon nanosheets—essentially, two-dimensional sheets of silicon that are only 1 atom thick. Encasing the materials in a thin polymer film prevents the silicon from forming a native oxide layer and protects it from UV radiation, preserving its optoelectronic properties. The researchers proceeded to prepare a proof-of-principle photodetector using the polymer-coated silicon nanosheets. Such a device has the potential to outperform alternatives in terms of size and energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, in February 2017, a collaboration of researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Milano-Bicocca published the results of their research into arrays of silicon quantum dots encased in polymer sheets. Such composite materials could see application in luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs). LSCs capture incident light and selectively reemit that light to solar cells at the edge of the device, potentially enabling photovoltaic windows. The researchers can tune the silicon quantum dots to absorb and emit light at different wavelengths, reducing losses and making the material perfect for this application. A proof-of-principle device demonstrated a 2.85% conversion efficiency, with simulations indicating that this figure could improve by up to a factor of two.

Implications

The Munich researchers are touting silicon nanosheets as a potential alternative to graphene. Like graphene, silicon nanosheets have impressive optoelectronic properties. In addition, silicon nanosheets are compatible with existing processes and materials, both in the semiconductor industry and in terms of polymer processing, which removes barriers to commercialization that other materials could face. Potential commercial opportunities for this material exist across a wide range of applications. In addition to photosensors, the material could see use in flexible displays, field-effect transistors, or energy-storage solutions.

In contrast, the research into LSCs primarily addresses a single application—photovoltaic windows. Advances in this field, enabling the exploitation of large areas for power generation, could potentially result in a fundamental shift toward solar power in densely packed urban environments—traditionally, areas where photovoltaics are limited to rooftops and cannot provide sufficient energy.

Impacts/Disruptions

Traditional silicon-based electronics will continue to dominate the integrated circuit industry for the foreseeable future. The time, money, and infrastructure invested in the technology by all of the major players is too great for this not to be the case. However, when emerging technologies offer performance advantages or enable entirely novel applications, the commercial opportunities will be too great to ignore for these same players. Silicon nanomaterials is one such emerging technology and would be easier to integrate than switching to, or integrating, an entirely different material. This advantage over competing novel technologies could smooth the route to commercialization.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Flexible electronics, packaging, agriculture, food and drink, security, consumer electronics

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: