This series started in response to a reader’s comment about the length of time it’s taking to commercialize our 3D Silicon™ Lithium-ion Rechargeable Battery (Enovix was founded in 2007). Part One described Sony’s 12-year pursuit to develop and commercialize a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery in 1991. It also presented an explanation as to why there has been no significant advancement in battery performance over the past quarter-century.
The second post in this series examines how photolithography and wafer production have helped transform several industries. Along with patented 3D cell architecture, photolithography and wafer production are crucial aspects of our approach to building a better battery. While the production techniques are novel for batteries, they are the modern standards for computing, lighting and television. But we didn’t arrive here overnight.
Computing – The first programmable electronic digital computer, Colossus, used in 1943 to help break the German Lorenz cipher, employed vacuum-tube technology. Vacuum-tube computers were very large and required a temperature-controlled environment, due to massive heat generation. Vacuum tubes had a very short mean time to failure, which, on average, required replacement of a failed computer tube every couple of days.
Development of a solid-state transistor to replace the vacuum tube began in 1945. Photolithography was first used on silicon wafers to produce transistors in 1955. The technique was used to produce integrated circuits (ICs) for commercialization in 1960. Photolithography and wafer production have helped drive an exponential increase in the transistor density of ICs and a corresponding decrease in cost, as described by Moore’s Law. This has enabled a rapid advancement in computing capability. Significant IC-based commercial computing platform milestones include IBM System/360 mainframe (1965), DEC PDP-8/I mini (1968), Altair 8800 (1974) and Apple II (1977) micros, IBM PC (1981) and Apple Macintosh (1984) desktops, NEC UltraLite notebook (1989), Apple iPhone smartphone (2007) and Apple iPad tablet (2010).
Lighting – Development of an incandescent light bulb dates from around 1802. Commercialization of incandescent bulbs began around 1880. By 1964, improvements in efficiency and production of incandescent lamps had reduced the cost of providing a given quantity of light by a factor of thirty, and bulbs were used to light homes, offices and streets throughout the developed world. However, 95% or more of the power consumed by a typical incandescent bulb is converted into heat, rather than visible light, making it relatively inefficient.
The first visible light-emitting diode (LED) was invented in 1962-first in red, then in green and yellow. Initially, LEDs were very costly, but photolithography and wafer production drove costs down, making them a popular choice for many low-power displays in the 1980s. In the 1990s, blue and white LEDs were invented. As efficiency increased and production costs continued to decrease, LEDs began to replace incandescent bulbs in a range of signal display applications, including traffic lights and auto brake lights. By 2012, a 10W LED emitted light equivalent to a 60W incandescent bulb, and total cost of ownership over the life of the LED was about 80% less than a bulb. Today, LED lighting is rapidly replacing incandescent bulbs for many light intensive applications, including street and indoor lighting.
Television – The first electronic television (TV) with a cathode-ray tube (CRT) display was produced in the 1930s. Commercialization began in the 1940s, and large-scale adoption of TVs with 9- to 10-inch CRT displays occurred after World War II. The expansion of broadcast media contributed to further growth through the 1980s, as color replaced B&W and average screen size doubled to about 19 inches. During the 1980s and 1990s, as the TV landscape radically changed with the growth of cable and the introduction of high definition television (HDTV), CRT screens reached their practical maximum size at around 35 inches.
A liquid crystal display (LCD) is made using photolithography and wafer production processes. LCDs were initially commercialized in the 1970s for pocket calculators and digital watches. Monochrome LCDs enabled the production of early portable computers in the 1980s. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, LCD technology continued to improve as the displays gained more contrast, better viewing angles, and advanced color capabilities. By the late 1990s, quality had improved and prices had declined to a point where 19- and 21-inch color LCD displays began replacing CRT monitors for desktop computing applications, especially graphic design and desktop publishing.
In 2004, TVs with CRT displays accounted for over 90% of the global TV market, with LCD TVs at single-digit market share. Between 2004 and 2014, LCD TV screen sizes increased from 30-inches to over 70-inches, resolution improved from 720p to 2160p, and prices fell for smaller display TVs with each successive display size increase. By 2014, LCD TV market share had grown to over 90%, and major manufacturers ceased production of CRT TVs.
Vacuum tubes, incandescent bulbs and cathode-ray tubes were all produced using complex, industrial processes-not unlike today’s Li-ion battery. And each eventually became a performance impediment for its primary application. Modern photolithography and wafer production techniques were used to manufacture each replacement device-transistor/IC, LED and LCD display, respectively.
It took 15 years or longer from the invention of the replacement device through development and commercialization for computing, lighting and television, respectively. However, each new device has completely transformed its respective industry. And, well after initial commercialization, photolithography and wafer production continues to help improve the performance and decrease the costs of ICs, LEDs (including led screen technology) and LCD displays.
All of these devices are critical to the rapid advancements in mobile electronics-notebooks, tablets, smartphones and wearable devices. But one crucial mobility component that has not yet benefited from photolithography and wafer production is the battery. The next post will describe the way we’re changing that.