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SiC and electromobility: CEA-Leti supporting Soitec with Smart Cut™ technology

Fondée en 1992 par quatre chercheurs du CEA désireux d’exploiter la technologie Smart Cut™ pour produire à l’échelle industrielle des plaques de silicium-sur-isolant (SOI), Soitec est une des premières start-ups essaimées du CEA-Leti. 

Published on 18 December 2020
  • ​Founded in 1992 by four CEA researchers who wanted to exploit Smart Cut™ technology to produce silicon on insulator (SOI) wafers on an industrial scale, Soitec is one of the first startups to arise from CEA-Leti. Though it rapidly took its independence, establishing headquarters in Bernin (France), the company that employs over a thousand people never stopped cooperating with its original laboratories.
  • The technological partnership between Soitec and CEA-Leti has been renewed every five years for over twenty-five years. Organized around themes, their cooperation continues in a common laboratory and is supported by a mixed team, with over 15 Soitec employees currently assigned to the Grenoble site. CEA-Leti offers its expertise and tools to help Soitec gain more fundamental knowledge of Smart-CutTM technology, but also to develop innovative technological building blocks that will open new market opportunities for Soitec, for example in the fields of MEMS substrates or of silicon photonics.

  • In 2018, their collaboration reached another milestone, with the creation of the Substrate Innovation Center. This prototyping line for advanced substrates is directly housed in CEA-Leti's cleanroom.  Its aim is to allow the early testing by microelectronics manufacturers of highly innovative substrates on small wafer series, thereby speeding up their technological validation phases.
  • Late 2019, it is precisely at the Substrate Innovation Center that Soitec and Applied Materials decided to set up a pilot line devoted to developing a new type of silicon carbide (SiC) substrate. SiC wafers are obtained using Smart CutTM technology; they are used, in particular, to manufacture power components. This new technological offering should make it possible to lower costs and have a considerable impact on the power industry, including in the field of electric vehicles. The first wafer samples are expected to become available by late 2020.

According to Christophe Billard, who heads the shared laboratory for CEA-Leti, the topic of silicon carbide is a perfect illustration of how the partners complement one another: Leti positions itself upstream by immediately working on the next generations of silicon carbide wafers and by building theoretical and experimental understanding of Smart-CutTM applied to this material.
Catherine Maddalon, the shared lab leader for Soitec, adds that, For their part, Soitec and Applied Materials implement and are stabilizing the first generation of the product, which is destined to be quickly sent into production; this will be possible thanks to the pilot line. CEA-Leti, owing to its scientific and technical expertise, makes a leading contribution to the design of future products.

  • Thus, for over 25 years, CEA-Leti and Soitec have continually innovated together and reinforced their ties to meet the future needs of microelectronics manufacturers.

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