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CrystalGiants
July 29, 2011   
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Ammono, a Polish firm set up by four graduates and doctoral students—from the University of Warsaw Faculty of Physics and the Warsaw University of Technology Faculty of Chemistry—has outdistanced some of the largest research centers in the United States, Japan and Europe in producing large pure crystals of gallium nitride—a method hailed as a technology of the future.

Robert Dwiliński, president of Ammono, says he took an interest in the production of large gallium nitride crystals when he was still in college. He asked three friends to work with him. Leszek Sierzputowski was an expert in chemical processes; Roman Doradziński specialized in thermodynamic calculations; and Jerzy Garczyński dealt with growth processes under high pressure. The three are now Ammono vice-presidents.

The firm was set up in 1992. The researchers worked for years to improve the production process. Initially, their crystals were small and contained quite a lot of impurities, making them look like coarse salt. The firm entered the international market when it started to offer crystals with a length of 25 and 38 millimeters.

Today Ammono makes crystals that are 51 millimeters long. It is the smallest dimension suitable for laser production lines. If the researchers manage to increase the size of their crystals to 100 millimeters manufacturers of integrated circuits will take a serious interest in the firm’s work.

Gallium nitride: technology of the future
Gallium nitride has several useful properties which can be applied in the optical industry and other sectors. For example, gallium nitride is a much better thermal conductor than silicon. As a result, it could be used in hybrid cars, with no need for an independent cooling system. This will make the hybrid car design simpler and reduce the cost of such vehicles.

Additionally, gallium nitride can emit light of any color of the rainbow. It is now the basic material used in the production of the blue lasers, which read compact discs in Blu-ray players and video game consoles. The lasers are the size of a pinhead. The amount of data that can be written on a compact disc by means of blue light is several times larger compared with the previous laser technology.

Gallium nitride crystals also offer hope for the development of better light-emitting diodes (LED). Dwiliński says such diodes will find application in laser TV projectors. The projectors will be so small that it will be possible to build them into various devices, such as laptops, mobile phones and even watches. The technology will also make it possible to reduce the size of computers to that of a pen, with the keyboard displayed on the desk and the image on the wall.

Gallium nitride is also used to build white LEDs, which will soon develop to become a viable alternative to conventional light bulbs and energy-efficient fluorescent lamps. This could mean huge energy savings globally.

Today, Ammono has patent protection for its large gallium nitride crystals, which are now the best in the world, according to the researchers. These crystals are produced in autoclaves under a temperature of 400-500 degrees Celsius and pressure of up to 5,000 atmospheres. They grow slowly from tiny seeds immersed in ammonium, just like salt crystals on a thread immersed in a water solution of salt. The process takes weeks but the crystals obtained in this way are of top quality.

A French consulting firm specializing in the semiconductor industry and nanotechnology, Yole Développement, says the global market for gallium nitride substrates is worth almost $240 million this year. The market’s growth is in double-digit figures every year and its value is expected to reach $900 million in five years. The Ammono researchers say they are shooting for at least 15 percent of this market. The firm now has more than 10 autoclaves but their number is expected to increase to 150 in the next few years.
Agnieszka Dokowicz
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