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LED Boom Will Grow Epi-Wafer Market To $4 Billion

Paul Nastu

As the LED lighting market hits $80 billion, the market for the epitaxial wafers that the diodes are made from will grow to $4 billion in 2020, according to a Lux Research report. Gallium nitride (GaN)-on-Sapphire epi wafers will remain the established component, despite competition from its leading challenger gallium nitride-on-silicon.

The report, “Dimming the Hype: GaN-on-Si Fails to Outshine Sapphire by 2020” says that while a majority of these epi-wafers are GaN-on-sapphire, GaN-on-silicon is the leading emerging technology with a strong economic appeal. Silicon is just one-eighth the cost of a sapphire substrate, but technical challenges will limit it to only a 10 percent market share in 2020, Lux says.

Meanwhile, Cree — which manufactures silicon carbide-based semiconductors — is promoting GaN-on-silicon carbide (SiC), which Lux says will grow to 18 percent market share.

LED lights market growthReport author and lead analyst Pallavi Madakasira says that since silicon is already widely used for electronics, some LED die manufacturers are hoping to take advantage of silicon substrates. However,  GaN-on-Si is more prone to cracking than GaN-on-sapphire, so “mitigating this mismatch is expensive”.

The analysts studied the market for GaN-on-sapphire, GaN-on-SiC, GaN-on-bulk GaN, and GaN-on-Si epi-wafers, evaluating each technology’s economic prospects as the industry moves to larger wafer sizes. Among their findings:

  • Choice and cost of LEDs will determine adoption. Where GaN-on-sapphire is suited to all applications, GaN-on-bulk GaN will be relegated to niche commercial lighting and GaN-on-Si, which may be economical but has unproven performance, will be better suited to cost-sensitive residential applications
  • Four-inch wafers will rule the market, though six-inch wafers will start to come into vogue. Four-inch wafers will peak at 62 percent market share with $2.1 billion in 2017 sales. Then, the LED industry will move towards 6” epi wafers, which will reach 35 percent of the market, equivalent to $1.4 billion, in 2020.
  • Technology will advance sapphire substrates. Sapphire substrate manufacturing technology has advanced significantly with specialists such as Rubicon and Monocrystal demonstrating substrates up to 12” in diameter. New methods like hydride vapor phase epitaxy will further improve throughput and cut costs, keeping sapphire highly competitive for the rest of the decade.

In tune with the report’s predictions about LED growth, new LED lights continue to hit the market.  This week, Cree announced the roll out of  the LED BR30 flood light that looks like a traditional incandescent BR30, but uses 85 percent less energy and is designed to last 25 times longer than comparable incandescent flood lights.  Featuring the same shape, same glass dome and same color light of the typical incandescent flood it replaces, the new Cree LED flood light gives consumers the flexibility to upgrade one or multiple bulbs without any noticeable difference, especially in recessed-lighting applications.



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