AUSTIN, Texas Intel Corp. is studying the use of carbon nanotube-based polymers in thermal-interface materials, the latest evidence that nanotechnology is no longer a curiosity but is being put to work in the electronics industry.
An Intel spokesman said Intel's enterprise laboratory will source the carbon nanotube (CNT) material from Zyvex Corp. (Richardson, Texas), one of the early nanotechnology startups to achieve commercial revenues from both materials and tools.
Zyvex engineers have figured out how to suspend high concentrations of CNTs in solvents so that customers can disperse the material into polymers, such as epoxies.
Intel's lab will investigate whether the CNT polymers could serve as a thermal interface material between a microprocessor and its heat sink, the Intel spokesman said, declining to comment further.
Zyvex president and chief operating officer Tom Cellucci said Zyvex expects to have sales of $10 million this year, with a further $50 million in government research grants.
Besides the CNT materials, sales also come from its line of probes and manipulators. Its S100 nanomanipulator, which costs about $140,000, attaches as a module onto a scanning electron microscope to move into position micro- and nano-scale materials.
Zyvex has teamed up with Keithley Instruments to combine the S100 manipulator with Keithley's electrical characterization system, which can sense electrical currents in the femto-ampere regime. Plans call for Keithley's Asian sales force to represent Zyvex in Asia, he said.
Zyvex is working with "a very large semiconductor equipment manufacturer" to combine its manipulators with that company's focused ion beam (FIB) equipment, used to repair defective chips. Cellucci did not identify the potential FIB partner. Micrion Corp. (Peabody, Mass.) is the largest vendor of FIB equipment.
Cellucci said the company's main goal is a project, expected to take 12 years, to create self-assembled circuits.
A conference, planned for November 14-17 in Austin, will bring together semiconductor capital equipment companies with the fledgling nanoelectronics research community.
Richard Knipe, an engineering manager at Texas Instruments, has been working on TI's nanotechnology digital light processors (DLPs) for years. He estimated TI will have a billion-dollar DLP business in the next year or two.
"There are lots of opportunities for nanotechnology to be used in the semiconductor industry," Knipe said. "I view nanotechnology as a means to an end. I build displays, and to do that I used nanotechnology."
Zvi Yaniv, CEO of Applied Nanotech Inc., based here, said he believes many people define nanotechnology too broadly.
His company is developing emission display technology from carbon nanotubes. And he noted that "as we move the continuum to quantum devices" that even silicon has light modulating properties that are not seen at larger dimensions.
Zynex's Cellucci said the effort to move nanotechnology-related research into the commercial realm is inhibited by universities, where unrealistic demands for up-front fees on top of royalties in negotiations can drag on for six months or longer.