Quantum Cascade Laser Manufacturing Cost Reduction
AREA(S): Battlespace, Electronics, Sensors
PROGRAM: PEO IWS 2.0, Above Water Sensors Program Office.
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Develop and demonstrate a new standardized fabrication process for quantum
cascade lasers (QCL) operating in the mid-wave infrared (MWIR) band that is
optimized for repeatable and cost-effective manufacturing.
Many threats to surface ships employ infrared (IR) imagers and detectors. These
include lethal threats such as anti-ship cruise missiles as well as aircraft
and unmanned aerial systems performing routine surveillance. In all cases,
shipboard countermeasures are needed and lasers are a fundamental component of
any electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) countermeasures suite. In order to realize
maximum utility, it is desirable that multiple lasers, each operating in a
different wavelength band, be employed. However, this becomes expensive and the
combined weight of the lasers in a wide bandwidth system becomes considerable,
especially since laser countermeasures are most effective when mounted high on
the ship’s superstructure, where weight is at a premium.
Fortunately, conventional countermeasures lasers typically do not require power
levels as high as that needed for laser weapons. Recently developed
semiconductor lasers, especially if their outputs are combined across an array
of devices, are sufficient to produce the power required. Their small size is
also attractive, particularly as multiple devices will still be required to
cover multiple wave bands. Of special interest is the quantum cascade laser
(QCL), because it has the added feature that its wavelength can be selected
across a relatively wide band within the same basic device. This means that a
small number of individual QCL designs can serve many applications. This has
obvious benefits for affordability, especially as envisioned systems may
require hundreds of individual solid-state laser components.
However, QCLs are expensive. This is not due to a lack of understanding of the
device, nor to a particularly difficult or exotic manufacturing process. QCLs
are most commonly fabricated in the indium phosphide (InP) semiconductor system
using basic process steps widely available in the industry. The main factor
driving QCL device cost is limited market demand. That is, QCLs are produced in
limited numbers, often in discrete batches utilizing proprietary processes, to
supply niche markets such as scientific instruments. In addition, QCLs have not
yet found major markets in industrial or telecommunications applications.
Consequently, QCL production volumes are low because a single semiconductor
wafer fabrication run can supply multiple applications due to the inherent flexibility
of the device.
A standard QCL semiconductor fabrication process that can meet a wide range of
defense needs in the mid-wave infrared (MWIR) wave band is needed. A great deal
of research over the past 20 years has steadily advanced QCL performance, in
increasing both the power output and the breadth of operating wavelengths.
Fundamental QCL device physics is well understood. Ironically, the prolific
research aimed at improving QCL performance has likely contributed to the high
cost of the device, as no “standard” device has been established. Therefore,
device performance is sufficiently mature and innovation in this area is not
considered part of this effort.
The Navy seeks a standard QCL fabrication process optimized for affordable
manufacture and realized in a common semiconductor system (such as
InGaAs/InAlAs quantum wells on an InP substrate) with repeatable and high-yield
fabrication processes. The process should yield a standard device that the
company can subsequently have produced in a merchant foundry of their choosing
(merchant foundries are “build to print” semiconductor fabrication facilities
that accept work under contract). Innovative application of established, or
invention of new, process steps is required to produce devices optimized for
yield and throughput that can be fabricated in existing semiconductor
foundries. Also, note that the device design and fabrication process are
integrally linked and it is understood that the resulting fabrication process
must be demonstrated on a specific QCL design or family of QCL devices.
For this effort, the MWIR band of interest is 3.7-4.8 microns wavelength. A
single-device output power of 500 mW (minimum, at room temperature) with device
efficiency of 8% is considered achievable and acceptable. As devices exhibiting
considerably higher power than the minimum present a net cost savings in
applications where the output power of multiple devices is combined, cost per
watt of output power may be used as a figure of merit in assessing the
feasibility of the proposed design. The emitted beam quality (M2) should be
less than 3.0 (with a goal of 1.5). The device design cannot preclude its
application in systems employing beam combining. The demonstrated devices must
permit wavelength selection over a nominal range of 100 - 200 nm and the basic
design should be applicable across the entire 3.7-4.8 micron band (with
adjustment of wavelength-determining dimensions and parameters such as quantum
well thickness). Within these parameters, the fabrication process (and
associated device structure) must be optimized for low-cost fabrication. While
device cost varies from manufacturer to manufacturer (approximately $4,000
each), and according to device performance, a cost reduction of 80-90% is
desired, based on the current state of the art for commercially available
devices of comparable performance.
I: Provide a concept for a QCL fabrication process and device design, optimized
for manufacturability, while meeting the minimum performance parameters
described in the Description. Select a specific semiconductor family that is
compatible with available merchant foundries and demonstrate the feasibility of
its concept in reducing cost. Demonstrate feasibility by a combination of
analysis, modelling and simulation. Include, in the feasibility analysis, yield
predictions and cost analysis of the proposed fabrication process. Develop a
Phase II plan. The Phase I Option, if exercised, will include the initial
design specifications and capabilities description to build a prototype
solution in Phase II.
II: Produce and deliver a prototype QCL fabrication process that meets the
requirements in the Description. Produce and deliver generic devices that also
meet the requirements and are not intended for any specific system
application. Demonstrate and document process repeatability and
device-to-device uniformity. Report prototype test data. Demonstrate low cost
production by validating (through testing) production-ready prototype QCLs.
This is expected to be an iterative process, likely resulting in multiple
prototypes. The product expected from this effort is a complete design package
for the production of a final generic prototype, sufficient for delivery to a
qualified merchant foundry. At the conclusion of Phase II, deliver sample
prototype devices, at least five each operating in at least two center
wavelengths, to the Government for characterization and retention as “gold
III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Support the Navy in transitioning the technology for
Government use. Since the design package and prototypes resulting from Phase II
are generic, assist in applying the design for specific system applications.
This is expected to entail selection of device dimensions and adjustment of
corresponding process parameters in order to produce QCLs at specific center
wavelengths. Produce device-specific process instructions and mask sets ready
for delivery to qualified merchant foundries. Assist the Government in testing
and validating the performance of the resulting devices and in enforcing
quality control. Ensure that the final product is a sustainable family of
affordable QCLs, produced to a standard process and available for application
in multiple DoD systems, including shipboard and airborne countermeasures.
This technology can be used in commercial applications such as
telecommunications and laser spectroscopy.
Razeghi, Manijeh, et al. "Recent progress of quantum cascade laser
research from 3 to 12 µm at the Center for Quantum Devices.” Applied Optics 56,
1 November 2017: H30-H44. https://www.osapublishing.org/ao/abstract.cfm?uri=ao-56-31-H30
Vitiello, Miriam Serena, et al. "Quantum cascade lasers: 20 years of
challenges.” Optics Express 23, 20 February 2015: 5167-5182. https://www.osapublishing.org/oe/abstract.cfm?uri=oe-23-4-5167
Razeghi, Manijeh, et al... "Recent advances in mid infrared (3-5µm)
Quantum Cascade Lasers.” Optical Materials Express 3, 10 October 2013:
Quantum Cascade Laser; Shipboard Countermeasures; Mid-Wave Infrared; Beam
Combining; Solid-State Laser; Semiconductor Fabrication; QCL; MWIR
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