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Bridgelux sells LED chip making assets to Toshiba

23 Apr 2013

Giant Japanese electronics brand to accelerate scale up of GaN-on-silicon LED production.

Bridgelux, the Californian company solid-state lighting company, is selling its GaN-on-silicon LED chip manufacturing assets to Toshiba, with relevant employees also transferring to the giant Japanese firm.

The deal, for an undisclosed sum, cements an already close relationship between the two companies. Last May, Toshiba bought an equity stake in Bridgelux, and the two had previously collaborated on the development of large-diameter gallium nitride (GaN)-on-silicon epiwafers – seen by many as the most obvious route to sustainable cost reduction in solid-state lighting.

Following the latest development, Bridgelux will be able to focus its efforts on lighting products, while Toshiba can apply its financial muscle to the expensive business of scaling up LED wafer and chip production.

The deal also guarantees Bridgelux a supply of chips for its lighting products. New CEO Brad Bullington, appointed just two months ago, said in a statement: “This agreement allows us to focus on what we do best, and what we think the market needs most at this point in time: commercializing, productizing and bringing to market LED-based solid state lighting technologies alongside a proven global-scale semiconductor manufacturing partner.”

Makoto Hideshima, executive VP of Toshiba’s semiconductor and storage products division, added: “We are so excited with this deal…gaining GaN-on-silicon technology and related assets will contribute to drastically strengthening our LED business.

“Entering a new phase of our relationship with Bridgelux, we will be able to accelerate the scaled manufacturing of 8-inch GaN-on-silicon LED wafers, which will position both companies for strong growth in our respective LED businesses.”

GaN-on-silicon: stiff competition
Bridgelux is one of many firms in the LED space to identify the use of large-scale silicon wafer substrates and existing semiconductor manufacturing infrastructure as the key to reducing the cost of solid-state lighting.

The GaN-based LED chips that feature in today’s lamps are typically manufactured on much smaller sapphire or silicon carbide (SiC) wafers, although the use of 6-inch diameter wafers has become more widespread recently.

As a result, vertically integrated companies such as Cree and Osram have recently been able to release LED replacements for conventional 40 W incandescent bulbs at prices as low as $10 or €10.

However, that still represents a huge premium over conventional technologies, and many in the industry view the use of silicon wafers as best the long-term strategy to reduce the cost of solid-state lighting. Others contend that the physical mismatch between silicon and the layers of GaN required to emit light efficiently, which has proved difficult to overcome until recently, means that the approach will always lag behind the more established methods.

Bridgelux and Toshiba will by no means have the field to themselves. Among the other serious contenders battling to develop lighting-class GaN-on-silicon LED technology are Osram and Azzurro Semiconductors, Samsung, Philips Lumileds, China’s Lattice Power, Taiwan-based Epistar and the UK company Plessey Semiconductors.

Bullington also pointed out that the new Toshiba deal provided Bridgelux with “significant new capital”, while simultaneously reducing the huge costs associated with running a chip fabrication facility.

The companies said that the physical assets included in the sale, plus the relevant employees, are set to remain at Bridgelux’s headquarters in Livermore, California, following closure of the transaction.

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