Carbonics has reported that carbon nanotube technology achieved speeds exceeding 100 GHz in RF applications. This industry milestone surpasses the performance, including efficiency, of current RF CMOS technology, which is ubiquitous in consumer electronics such as cell phones. The result shows the potential of this new technology to provide a powerful boost for 5G and mmWave applications.

For nearly two decades, researchers have theorized that carbon nanotubes would be well suited as a high frequency transistor technology because of its unique one-dimensional electron transport characteristics. The engineering challenge has been to assemble high purity semiconducting nanotubes into densely aligned arrays to create a working device out of the nanomaterial.

Carbonics, a venture backed start-up, has addressed this challenge and demonstrated, for the first time, device performance exceeding RF CMOS performance in key RF metrics. Scaling the performance of single carbon nanotube devices suggests the technology could exceed GaAs, the top-tier incumbent RF technology.

Carbonics employs a deposition technology called ZEBRA, which enables carbon nanotubes to be densely aligned and deposited onto a variety of chip substrates such as silicon, silicon-on-insulator, quartz and flexible materials. This allows direct integration with traditional CMOS digital logic, overcoming the typical problem of heterogeneous integration.

“This milestone shows that carbon nanotubes, long thought to be a promising communications chip technology, can deliver. The next step is scaling this technology, proving that it can work in high-volume manufacturing. Ultimately, this technology could help the Army meet its needs in communications, radar, electronic warfare and other sensing applications.” — Joe Qiu, program manager at the Army Research Office

The speed record was reported in the paper “Wafer-scalable, aligned carbon nanotube transistors operating at frequencies of over 100 GHz,” which was published this week in the journal, Nature Electronics. A separate commentary in the publication called the research "a remarkable technology milestone,” concluding “We are now, finally, close to a tipping point in which nanotubes become a serious competitor to silicon in almost all areas of microelectronics.”

In 2014, Carbonics was spun-out from the joint center of UCLA-USC and King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), called the Center of Excellence for Green Nanotechnologies. DARPA and the U.S. Air Force. The work published in Nature Electronics was funded by the U.S. Army contract W911NF19P002 and by KACST.

“With this exciting accomplishment, the timing is ripe to leverage our CMOS-compatible technology for the 5G and mmWave defense communication markets. We are now engaged in licensing and technology transfer partnerships with industry participants, while we continue to advance this disruptive RF technology.” — Carbonics’ CEO Kos Galatsis

Carbonics believes that its ZEBRA technology will first be adopted in military applications before being used more broadly.