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Semiconductors: A Silicon-Alternative with 10x Better Thermal Conductivity

By Dick Weisinger

Cubic Boron Arsenide has been identified as a material which has far superior semiconducting properties compared to the currently ubiquitously used silicon, according to research from work done at MIT, the University of Houston, and other institutions.

Silicon is used in almost all existing computer chips and solar cells for its semiconductor properties. Silicon has the advantage of being very cheap and plentiful but does have limitations as a semiconductor. Overheating is an issue than frequently needs to be dealt with in existing semiconductor design. Cubic boron arsenide (c-BAs), a semiconductor alternative to silicon, has ultrahigh thermal conductivity, comparable to diamond.

Jungwoo Shin, optical hardware engineer at Google, said that “heat is now a major bottleneck for many electronics. Silicon carbide is replacing silicon for power electronics in major EV industries including Tesla, since it has three times higher thermal conductivity than silicon despite its lower electrical mobilities. Imagine what boron arsenides can achieve, with 10 times higher thermal conductivity and much higher mobility than silicon. It can be a game changer.

Gang Chen, MIT mechanical engineering professor, said that “silicon is the workhorse of the entire industry. So, OK, we’ve got a material that’s better, but is it actually going to offset the industry? We don’t know. While the material appears to be almost an ideal semiconductor, whether it can actually get into a device and replace some of the current markets, I think that still has yet to be proven.”

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