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Porotech plots improved displays for phones, watches and VR/AR headsets after £3m investment

Better microdisplays for smartphones, smartwatches and VR/AR headsets are on the way, after Porotech raised £3million to fund further development of its pioneering micro-LED production technology.

The University of Cambridge spin-out has created a new class of porous gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor material that promises to transform the field.

Porotech CEO and co-founder Dr Tongtong Zhu. Picture: Keith Heppell
Porotech CEO and co-founder Dr Tongtong Zhu. Picture: Keith Heppell

Micro-LED technology is in its infancy, but expected to be the next major step forward for displays.

The familiar problem of struggling to see a phone’s display clearly outdoors in bright sunlight is one of the problems it promises to solve.

Apple has shown interest in micro-LED panels and TVs could ultimately incorporate them too, but the performance currently deteriorates with increasing device size.

Porotech’s version of the technology offers performance improvements suitable for mass production, yet customisable for particular applications.

And the potential has not gone unnoticed. The company, which has a base at South Cambridge Business Park in Sawston, only span out in January 2020 yet has been generating revenue for 10 months.

Porotech co-founders, from left, CEO Dr Tongtong Zhu, CSO Professor Rachel Oliver and CTO Dr Yingjun Liu. Picture: Porotech
Porotech co-founders, from left, CEO Dr Tongtong Zhu, CSO Professor Rachel Oliver and CTO Dr Yingjun Liu. Picture: Porotech

It is known to be working with some of the biggest names in display technology and in November 2020 launched the world’s first commercial native red indium gallium nitride (InGaN) LED epiwafer for micro-LED applications.

Next, it aims to expand its novel approach to integrate InGaN-based red, green and blue (RGB) micro-LEDs for full-colour microdisplays.

Ultimately, it aims to create ‘smart’ pixels that can be controlled independently, for unrivalled responsiveness and accuracy, which would be helpful augmented reality (AR) gestures.

Technologies now being tested for smart pixels are typically based on aluminum indium gallium phosphide (AlInGaP) material and quantum dot colour conversion (QDCC).

However, AllnGaP struggles at the small pixel sizes required by AR – and QDCC suffers from both uniformity and stability issues. Both approaches also require a mixture of different material.

Porotech is taking a different approach by enabling all three primary colours to be made with the same GaN material and integrated on a single wafer, with no need for special structuring.

Dr Tongtong Zhu
Dr Tongtong Zhu

Porotech CEO and co-founder Dr Tongtong Zhu said: “Porous GaN is basically GaN with tiny holes in it that are a few tens of nanometres across.

“It’s an entirely new engineered GaN material platform to build semiconductor devices on.

“It offers performance improvements that are suitable for mass production, scalable in wafer size – and crucial for the next generation of microdisplay devices such as AR glasses.

“We are already seeing high levels of demand for our standard and customised porous GaN substrates and micro-LED epiwafers, which we can provide on sapphire and silicon platforms ranging from 100mm (4in) to 300mm (12in).

“Smart pixels will be our next development – monolithically generated and integrating native self-emissive RGB micro-LEDs on a single wafer to give smaller, lighter, thinner displays that use less energy and offer the greater accuracy required for things like AR gestures.”

The company intends to develop its own supply chain ecosystem to help it develop and produce products more quickly.

Its funding round was led by Speedinvest, the European venture capital fund, with participation from previous investors IQ Capital, Cambridge Enterprise, Martlet and Cambridge Angels.

Rick Hao, principal at Speedinvest, said: "The revolutionary technology developed by Porotech is set to transform the electronics industry as demand grows for smaller, lighter, sharper displays that are more accurate and environmentally friendly than ever before.

"This new type of porous GaN semiconductor material fits within existing industry processes and is robust and flexible enough to be tailored to different applications. Porotech has demonstrated that it has both the product and the commercial capability to become a key player in next-generation display technology."

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