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Interview with Shenzhen Third-Generation Semiconductor Research Institute Professor Yu Hongyu – Building a First-Class Research Center

Sep 25, 2018 Research

Shenzhen Third Generation Semiconductor Research Institute was officially launched by the Third Generation Semiconductor Industry Technology Innovation Strategic Alliance and Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech).

The Institute is geared to the strategic needs of the third-generation semiconductors. It is based on the strategic goal of building a world-class technology, relying on the third-generation semiconductor industry technology innovation strategic alliance. Based in Shenzhen and covering Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, it faces the country to create an open and international third-generation semiconductor collaborative innovation platform for the entire supply chain.

As a result, the supply chain strives to become the third-generation semiconductor technology innovation center of the country and promote the third-generation semiconductor industry chain for the world.

After more than half a year, we wanted to understand the development of the research institute. We interviewed Yu Hongyu, the co-founder of the institute and professor of the Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering of SUSTech.


Q: Professor Yu, can you please explain what third-generation semiconductors are in a simple way, what their applications are, and what impact they have on the development of society?

A: The semiconductor refers to the material whose electrical conductivity is between the conductor and the insulator at a normal temperature. Common semiconductor materials are silicon or germanium. Silicon is the most influential one in commercial applications right now. The third generation of semiconductors, including silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN), use materials such as other nitride semiconductors, oxide semiconductors, and diamonds.

They have high physical characteristics such as high electric fields, thermal conductivity, electron saturation drift rate or radiation resistance. It is the core material and key component of next-generation power electronics, radio frequency, and optoelectronic applications. More than these, it can effectively support new energy vehicles, rail transit and green energy.

Key applications for third-generation semiconductors include new energy and smart grid, rail and new energy vehicles, 5G communications and the Internet of Things. There are a wide range of social impacts in my opinion.

Firstly, the power devices and modules of the third-generation semiconductor materials can greatly reduce the energy loss and complexity of the power system and are applied to smart grids, high-speed rail transit, and new energy vehicles. Energy-consuming applications such as industrial motors, white goods, and data centers will create considerable energy-saving space and meet the global development needs of “green-oriented, low-carbon development.”

Secondly, the future of 5G mobile communications, massive device connections, emerging new services and new application scenarios put high demands on ultra-high traffic density, connection density, and mobility. The third-generation semiconductor technology can meet the development needs of the information-based society of building an autonomous and controllable Internet of Everything and Mobile Internet.

Thirdly, the development of the third-generation semiconductor industry can help traditional industries develop and upgrade. For example, Micro LED is expected to break through South Korea's dominant position in the display field and promote China's comprehensive industrial upgrade. The development of the third-generation semiconductor industry is also expected to break through the leading position of developed countries in the field of automobile manufacturing.

Fourthly, the third-generation semiconductor power devices using high-frequency, high-reliability, long-life, wide operating temperature range, and strong anti-irradiation capability also have positive significance for the construction of defense weapons.


Q: The third generation of semiconductors, as an advanced technology, has strategic roles in not just science and technology, but in the economic and social development of China.  Should this be the background and was this the original intention behind the establishment of Shenzhen Third Generation Semiconductor Research Institute?

A: Yes, the ZTE incident touched the long-term lack of investment in the core technology of China’s semiconductor industry. The problem of “the lack of homegrown chips” was once again severely placed in front of us.

We must see both the problem and the opportunity. The third-generation semiconductor has great potential for future applications and has the ability to make revolutionary breakthroughs. It is innovations in new rounds of changes in semiconductor and downstream power electronics and communications industries. In the case of large gaps between silicon-based semiconductors, the monopoly of foreign companies in the semiconductor field in specific areas is not complete. China has the opportunity and space to seize the technological moment.

In 2016, the State Council issued the “13th Five-Year National Science and Technology Innovation Plan” and launched a number of major projects for 2030. The third-generation semiconductor was listed as an important part of the “Key New Materials Development and Application” program under the National Science and Technology Innovation 2030 Major Project.

It is the country's needs and at the right time. And here, I would like to give my thanks to the strong support from Shenzhen Municipal Government. SUSTech now is facing the third-generation semiconductor strategic needs of the country in 2030, focusing on the strategic goal of building a world-scientific power, and meeting the third-generation semiconductor industry. The Technology Innovation Strategic Alliance, university research institutes and related key enterprises have jointly established the third-generation semiconductor research institute in Shenzhen.


Q: You just mentioned that the research institute was established under and promoted by the city of Shenzhen. Why does Shenzhen pay so much attention to the third-generation semiconductor research institute? What are the advantages of establishing this research institute at SUSTech?

A: Independent innovation has been the main strategy for Shenzhen’s development. To put the guiding principles from the 19th National Congress into action, Shenzhen has strengthened the top-level design of the innovation system, promoted scientific and technological innovation through institutional and policy innovations, and built a number of open major scientific and technological facilities, innovative carriers and service platforms. As an important electronic information industry base in China, Shenzhen's position is increasingly consolidated, and the advantages of the new generation information technology industry are outstanding.

Shenzhen has become the center of consumption, distribution, and design of domestic semiconductor products, and has produced a distinctive and fast-growing semiconductor industry in a good market environment. At the same time, Shenzhen has a certain third-generation semiconductor technology and industrial base, with the most advanced and extensive application market of the third-generation semiconductor, and also has third-generation semiconductor research and development related such as Hisilicon, ZTE, Bronze Sword, Founder Microelectronics, and Ruibo Optoelectronics.

Vigorously development of the semiconductor industry is an important measure for Shenzhen to build a national independent innovation demonstration zone. In April 2017, the Ministry of Science and Technology issued the "The 13th Five-Year Special Plan for the Technological Innovation in the Materials Industry.” Guangdong Province government has realized the industrialization and large-scale application of wide-band gap semiconductor materials and new display materials.

It will develop third-generation semiconductor materials and devices as major science and technology projects to carry out special action plans, and vigorously support the development of third-generation semiconductor companies. It can be said that the next five to ten years will be a major period of adjustment, an adjustment of the global semiconductor industry development, and also an important strategic opportunity period for Shenzhen's industrial development.

SUSTech’s goal is to quickly build an international high-level research university and build an important base for China's major scientific and technological research along with innovative talent training. SUSTech started to conduct third-generation semiconductor research in 2011 and established the “Third-Generation Semiconductor Key Laboratory” under the unified planning and deployment of Shenzhen. SUSTech has the largest dedicated experimental clean room in South China, and a basic and applied research center on the Pico scale to support the pioneering development of third-generation semiconductor devices along with the "Third-Generation Semiconductor Materials and Devices" courses for both undergraduate and graduate students, providing scientific research support and human resources for the development of the third-generation semiconductor industry in basic research and high-end talent training. At present, the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Institute of Microelectronics, jointly established by the SUSTech and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, play a strong supporting role for the Institute.



Q: What is the architecture of our third-generation semiconductor research institute? After more than half a year of construction, what is the current progress ?

A: The third-generation semiconductor research institute in Shenzhen is based on the third-generation semiconductor industry technology innovation strategic alliance and the SUSTech. Together with other university research institutes and related key enterprises such as Fudan University, with the strong support of the Shenzhen Municipal Government. Shenzhen Third Generation Semiconductor Research Institute is a private non-enterprise unit, which implements the president responsibility system under the leadership of the board of directors. The board of directors is the highest decision-making body of the institute, and the board of supervisors supervises the work of the institute. The institute has three committees----steering committee, industrial development committee, and technical committee and four departments----strategy and research and development department, platform operation department, results transformation and incubation department, and an integrated management department.

Since its official launch on March 31 this year, the Institute has actively prepared for the construction of various management mechanisms, including the introduction of some important talents, the selection of open R&D platforms and equipment selection and has initiated the first batch of R&D projects. SUSTech Conference and Research Institute are currently accelerating the development of 6-8-inch compatible SiC/GaN and other materials open research and development platform, advanced packaging and testing open research and development platform, material testing, reliability, and certification platform construction (estimated investment of more than 2 billion yuan) .

At the same time, in order to accelerate the development of the third-generation semiconductor technology and industry, it is necessary not only to engage in top-level scientists in basic theory and frontier research, but also the need technical experts with deep technical and industrial experience to achieve the goal of “both top and bottom”. The institute has formulated corresponding policies and incentives to attract domestic and international first-class scientific research and industrial technology talents to create top-notch R&D teams. The high-end talents of the institute will also be employed by SUSTech.


Q: What are the future development goals of our Third-Generation Semiconductor Research Institute?

A: The Third Generation Semiconductor Research Institute will meet the strategic needs of the third-generation semiconductor industry of China in 2030. Focusing on the strategic goal of building a powerful country in science and technology in the world and relying on the Third Generation Semiconductor Industry Technological Innovation Strategic Alliance, it will build an innovation chain through the industrial chain and make full use of the existing superior resources to activate the stock incrementally and attract the international community.

By focusing on the development of third-generation semiconductor core materials, devices, packages and modules, and examining forward-looking and industry-related key technologies, the Institute can become an advanced open research and development platform with innovative institutional mechanisms that provide technical support for the rapid development of the industry.

Aiming at major scientific issues and bottlenecks, we will achieve the goal cooperation, task coordination, and mechanism cooperation among various innovation entities and innovation elements, improve innovation efficiency, and establish an open, international, and full-chain third generation system and system innovation.


Q: What is the current status and progress of the third-generation semiconductor research, both domestically and globally? What is the focus and research directions of the Institute?

A: The third-generation semiconductor has entered an explosive growth period. The United States, Japan, and Europe attach great importance to it. And their national plans have been deployed to take control. In 2014, US President Barack Obama announced the establishment of “National Manufacturing Innovation Center for Next Generation Power Electronics Technology,” with the third-generation semiconductor industry as an important starting point for revitalizing the US energy economy. Japan’s NEDO has organized the third-generation national key technology project for semiconductor power electronic devices led by Prof. Amano, Nagoya University, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics. The European Union has launched major projects to jointly tackle key technologies for SiC and GaN, including the “KORRIGAN” program for defense and commercial applications, the “GREAT2” program for high-reliability aerospace applications, the “LAST POWER” project for industry and academia, and in 2017 started the CHALLENGE project.

GaN has established a dominant position in the field of semiconductor lighting. China's overall output value reached 653.8 billion yuan; the market for microwave radio frequency reached 1.5 billion yuan, and the market for power electronics reached 1.8 billion yuan. The development of third-generation semiconductors in the future, especially in China, will be infinitely broad.

In the fiercely competitive and ever-changing development situation, our Third-Generation Research Institute will focus on major strategic needs such as energy conservation and emissions reduction, intelligent manufacturing, information security, and industrial upgrades. Three generations of forward-looking semiconductor and key common industrial technologies, through 6-8 inch compatible SiC/GaN and other materials will provide an open research and development platforms for advanced packaging and testing, along with opportunities for material testing, reliability and certification. As a result, the development of the third-generation semiconductor industry will meet China's information, energy, transportation needs for the sustainable development of the national economy and promote the strategic transformation of China into a strong semiconductor manufacturing country.


Q: Is there a crossover between third-generation semiconductor research and other disciplines? How can they cooperate?

A: Third generation semiconductors are one of the important areas for the development and application of key new materials. Its industrial chain is long, and its application coverage is wide. It involves three major fields of power electronics, microwave radio frequency and optoelectronics, including new energy grid-connected transmission, electric vehicles, and communication. Many important aspects of lighting, consumer electronics, health and medical care, from daily life to the core application of the national economy, are facing the global needs of green and low-carbon development, building an autonomous and controllable information society of interconnection and mobile interconnection, promoting modern national defense, supporting the upgrading of traditional industries, and creating new attractions, all cultivating new forces in economic and social development.


Q: Can you talk about some of your research results?

A: I led the establishment of the Shenzhen Third Generation Semiconductor Key Laboratory, and the Guangdong Province GaN Device Engineering Technology Research Center and built a related team. In the third-generation semiconductor field, I focus on GaN power devices, RF devices, sensors and system integration research and development projects by the state, Guangdong, Shenzhen and other government departments at all levels, and Huawei, ZTE and other companies. Recently, my team independently developed a 6-inch GaN power device in the SUSTech clean room, and its performance approached the international advanced level for the first time. The research and development of MEMS sensor based on AlGaN/GaN HEMT structure is mainly focused on its application in vehicle exhaust emission and pesticide detection, which can improve the existing environmental monitoring capability and effectively help green city construction.


Q: What opportunities or growth platforms does the third-generation semiconductor research bring to SUSTech students?

A: First of all, relying on the SUSTech-built international first-class third-generation semiconductor open R&D hardware platform, it will attract a group of high-level talents with profound international research and industrial background. The influential R&D team will greatly promote the development of the first-class disciplines at SUSTech and provide future doctorate and postgraduate students with high academic standards and deep industry experience, Undergraduate students will gain incredible experience in the semiconductor industry and have the broadest vision.

Secondly, the institute will be built as a talent training base, an industrial incubation base, and an intellectual property sharing base for China. SUSTech can establish a basic cooperative knowledge of R&D through close cooperation with the industry. The technology provides industrialization orientation, and through the Institute's open research and development platform and technology to accelerate industrialization, SUSTech will also help the development of the semiconductor industry.

Interview: Liu Hui

Translated and Adapted: Chris Edwards/Xia Yingying

Photograph: Zhang Xiaoyan

(The information and pictures provided by the Third Generation Semiconductor Research Institute)

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