11 January 2012
Asahi Kasei acquires Crystal IS
On 28 December, Japan-based diversified industrial enterprise Asahi Kasei Group acquired Crystal IS Inc of Green Island, NY, USA, which develops single-crystal aluminum nitride (AlN) substrates and ultraviolet light-emitting diodes (UVC LEDs) based on them.
The Asahi Kasei Group is currently advancing ‘For Tomorrow’ projects in the fields of the environment energy, residential living, and health care, for the creation of new businesses under its ‘For Tomorrow 2015’ mid-term management initiative. A key focus of the Environment Energy for Tomorrow project is the development of technology to create new business with compound semiconductor devices that complement Asahi Kasei’s established gallium arsenide (GaAs)-based Hall-effect devices, infrared sensors, and magnetic resistance devices.
Since being spun off from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY, USA in 1997, Crystal IS has been working in development mode for more than ten years, with a history of early support from RPI as well as continued support from both regional and US government. Venture funding in 2004 and 2006 from ARCH Venture Partners, Lux Capital, the Credit Suisse/New York State Common Retirement Fund and Harris Harris Group, helped the firm to scale up development.
As one element of its Environment and Energy for Tomorrow project, in July 2010 Asahi Kasei purchased shares in Crystal IS, and the two firms began the joint development of process technology for manufacturing AlN substrates. Recent collaborative and strategic support from Asahi Kasei Group as well as China’s San’an Optoelectronics Company Ltd propelled it to its current level of operation. Crystal IS currently has 25 staff.
Crystal IS had been exploring its options for commercializing the AlN-based UV LEDs that it had developed, which feature exceptionally short wavelength as well as what’s claimed to be world-leading efficiency and service life. As well as having high thermal conductivity and excellent tolerance to high voltage, AlN absorbs and emits short-wavelength UV light, which has an bactericidal effect. UV LEDs featuring smaller size, lighter weight, longer service life and energy conservation can therefore facilitate the development of portable disinfection equipment and other new applications. However, difficulty in growing AlN in pure crystal form has hindered high-volume commercial production.
Crystal IS’ technology was judged to be a good fit with Asahi Kasei’s thin-film device technology, which can provide a base for the further expansion of compound semiconductor operations, while both firms share a common vision for the development of the UV LED sector. Asahi Kasei adds that the acquisition enables combination of the technologies of Asahi Kasei and Crystal IS, as well as marking its entry into the UV LED market and providing a foundation for further developments in energy-conserving devices.
Asahi Kasei reckons that having Crystal IS as a subsidiary will enable not only the early commercialization of technology to grow single-crystal AlN substrates but also, through a combination of the two firms’ technologies, the early commercialization of UV LED devices which are expected to meet growing demand. “The advances in solid-state UVC technology accomplished by Crystal IS will allow for clean and safe disinfection to be introduced into water, air and surface applications in multiple markets,” says Masafumi Nakao, general manager of Asahi Kasei’s Advanced Devices and Sensor Systems Development Center. In addition, further developments will be explored for the application of AlN technology to other energy-conserving devices.
Crystal IS reckons that, while continuing to be based in New York State, as a subsidiary of Asahi Kasei it will be able to accelerate commercialization of its UVC LEDs, leveraging Asahi Kasei’s strength’s in product engineering and manufacturing excellence. The company will organize around its respective strengths, with RD fundamentals and entrepreneurial business development managed from Crystal IS, and product engineering and manufacturing excellence being led by Asahi Kasei.
“Our record LED performance in development has brought interest from global customers and we are eager to create a high-quality product to meet their needs,” says Crystal IS’ CEO president Dr Steven Berger. “We recognize Asahi Kasei Group’s strength as a successful developer and manufacturer of compound semiconductor devices and are confident that their support will ensure a timely and quality launch of our UVC LED business in the global marketplace,” he adds.
“I am pleased that this ground-breaking technology platform is moving forward into the next phase of growth,” comments Crystal IS’ co-founder chief technology officer Leo Schowalter. “We are pleased to be part of a growing high-tech area focused on advanced materials, life science, cleantech and energy,” he adds. “We will continue our tradition of innovation and excellence, while also accelerating global business growth with our new owner.”