Do you remember Twin Creeks Technologies?
The VC-funded startup was attempting to commercialize an ion-implant machine that would allow solar manufacturers to produce super-thin photovoltaic cells from crystalline silicon. It was a wildly ambitious bet, and the company went from unstealthing in early 2012 to having its assets purchased for approximately $10 million by GT Advanced Technologies in late 2012. That might have been a record time from a public unveiling to abandoning the business.
Twin Creeks had raised more than $80 million from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital, Artis, and DAG Ventures.
At the time, GT was looking to use the acquired ion-implant technology for power semiconductors and possibly solar wafers, as well as thin sapphire laminates for touchscreens. Twin Creeks CEO Siva Sivaram said that about twenty people located in Boston are part of the transfer, writing to GTM that "the management of Twin Creeks supported the private sale and feels confident that GT is in an excellent position to commercialize this innovative technology."
That boilerplate phrase was actually prescient. This acquisition could work out well for GT Advanced.
The GT Advanced/Twin Creeks process is known as Proton-Induced Exfoliation (or PIE). A hydrogen ion or proton is accelerated to 1.2 million electron-volts and shot into a crystal material, where it settles at a finite depth. The hydrogen ions line up at that finite depth, where they are then heated, resulting in a wafer that cleaves right off the substrate along the crystalline plane. The proton energy determines how deep the protons go and therefore sets the thickness of the wafer.
According to GT Advanced's most recent earnings report, the Hyperion ion implant product is a tool for the "production of ultra-thin sapphire, silicon carbide and silicon laminates or templates," adding, "We continue to make excellent progress in these areas and have now exfoliated 26 micron thick sapphire lamina at a 6-inch diameter." Sapphire glass is significantly stronger and more scratch-resistant than the glass currently used in Apple's iPhones.
During the earnings call, Raja Bal, the CFO of GT, said that the Hyperion sapphire laminates are targeted for production in 2015.
Twin Creeks' ion-implant machine: