Instead of starting from a silicon wafer or other substrate the researchers have made it possible for the structures to grow from freely suspended nanoparticles of gold in a flowing gas.
Behind the discovery is Lars Samuelson, Professor of Semiconductor Physics at Lund University, Sweden, and head of the University’s Nanometre Structure Consortium. Prof. Samuelson believes the technology will be ready for commercialisation in two to four years’ time. A prototype for solar cells is expected to be completed in two years.
“When I first suggested the idea of getting rid of the substrate, people around me said ‘you’re out of your mind, Lars; that would never work’. When we tested the principle in one of our converted ovens at 400°C, the results were better than we could have dreamt of”, explained Prof. Samuelson. “The basic idea was to let nanoparticles of gold serve as a substrate from which the semiconductors grow. This means that the accepted concepts really were turned upside down.”
Since then, the technology has been refined, patents have been obtained and further studies have been conducted. The researchers show how the growth can be controlled using temperature, time and the size of the gold nanoparticles.
Recently, they have also built a prototype machine with a specially built oven. Using a series of ovens, the researchers expect to be able to ‘bake’ the nanowires, as the structures are called, and thereby develop multiple variants, such as p-n diodes.
A further advantage of the technology is avoiding the cost of expensive semiconductor wafers.
“In addition, the process is not only extremely quick, it is also continuous. Traditional manufacture of substrates is batch-based and is therefore much more time-consuming”, added Prof. Samuelson.
At the moment, the researchers are working to develop a good method to capture the nanowires and make them self-assemble in an ordered manner on a specific surface. This could be glass, steel or another material suited