New Manufacturing Process Could Yield Better Computer Chips & Solar Cells

Computer chips, solar cells, and other electronic devices have traditionally been based on silicon, the most well-known of the semiconductors. Gallium arsenide is another semiconductor and it has certain technical advantages over silicon - electrons race through its crystalline structure faster than they can move through silicon. Because silicon is roughly a thousand times cheaper to make, gallium arsenide-based devices are only used in niche applications (such as cellphones) where their special capabilities justify their higher cost. Now, Stanford University engineers have invented a manufacturing process that could dramatically reduce the cost of making gallium arsenide electronic devices and thus open new uses for them, notably inside solar panels. In their new manufacturing process, devices are made on top of a gallium arsenide wafer, as usual. But then the devices are separated from the wafer using a laser, allowing the wafer to be reused. By reusing the gallium arsenide wafer, the wafer becomes a tool rather than a consumable, dramatically reducing the cost of a gallium arsenide device.