Seoul Semiconductor Made the Jump to GaN Substrate, nPola May Rock Sapphire Substrate Industry

In July 2012, Seoul Semiconductor (SSC) announces a new LED product called “nPola,” which takes SSC more than ten years to develop. The product features the non-polar technology that increases brightness levels 5 times over existing LEDs. Currently most mass-produced LEDs’ luminous efficacies are around 100lm, but SSC’s nPola product’s luminous efficacy reaches 500lm, five times higher. Simply put, a 60W equivalent LED light bulb usually requires 10-20 LEDs, but it only needs 1-2 LEDs if adopting nPola product. According to LEDinside, the product adopts GaN-on-Si substrate, which explains Dr. Shuji Nakamura’s attendance at the product release press conference.



LEDinside previously noted that major LED firms have set foot in the GaN-on-Si substrate field, which is set to seriously impact the existing sapphire substrate technology.

As the substrate material, GaN does not have the lattice mismatch issue which is almost impossible for heteroepitaxy to overcome. GaN has advantages such as wide bandgap, high breakdown voltage, high thermal conductivity, high saturation velocity, radiation hardness, and high chemical stability. In theory, it is the material system of the highest power conversion efficiency. With more than ten years of development, SSC released nPola which increases luminous efficacies 5 times over existing LEDs. LEDinside believes SSC’s revolutionary breakthrough in GaN homoepitaxy will change the landscape of the industry.

Previously, Japanese LED firm Toyota Gosei released LED products that adopted GaN substrates, whose luminous efficacies reach approximately 400lm, three times more than those of sapphire LEDs of the same size. However, Toyota Gosei’s main focus is on sapphire substrate, and its package products’ competitiveness lies in its epitaxy technology. Given its current product lines and clients, it will be rather costly for the company to upgrade its epitaxt equipment. As a result, even though Toyota Gosei is the forerunner in the GaN homoepitaxy field, it may not make a splash in the GaN substrate market for the time being.

More to the point, although Mitsubishi Chemical is no stranger to GaN substrate technology, as a material supplier, it is still difficult for the company to propel other epitaxy companies to switch to the GaN camp.

Notably, SSC, a big name package company, has been actively engaging in the GaN homoepitaxy field and may make a huge impact on the market. The products of SSC, restrained by its limited chip capacity, are not particularly cost-competitive. Therefore, the company lost its edge in the competition with Samsung and LG Innotek. Thus, SSC has been aggressively finding a niche market to regain the advantageous position.

nPola, considered a technological leap, provides a great market opportunity. Among the first-tier package companies, SSC is the forerunner in the backlight and lighting markets and holds abundant distribution channels and cross-field clients and a reasonable product structure. By adopting nPola in the system, a company can quickly acquire certification from its clients. Through the learning curve and scale of economy, the company can cut the cost considerably and become more competitive in the market. nPola may trigger a booming growth of the material and equipment market and shake up the sapphire substrate industry.

Undoubtedly, sapphire substrate industry will undergo the most prominent impact. According to LEDinside’s survey, the global production of sapphire substrate has reached 100 million, twice the amount of global demand. Given the scheduled production expansion, the global supply may exceed the demand by 10 times in the future.

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