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French deep tech spinout Diamfab crystallizes hopes for diamond semiconductors to support green transition | Prime Time News24


As extra funding flows into deep tech to deal with troublesome international issues like local weather change, PhD entrepreneurs popping out of Europe’s prime universities and labs are more and more turning their analysis into firms.

French spinout Diamfab, based in 2019, is one instance. Its co-founders, CEO Gauthier Chicot and CTO Khaled Driche, each PhDs in nanoelectronics and acknowledged researchers within the subject of semiconducting diamond, left Institut Néel, a laboratory of the French Nationwide Heart for Scientific Analysis (CNRS), with two licensed patents below their belt.

Since then, Chicot and Driche have registered extra patents and introduced on a 3rd co-founder, Ivan Llaurado, as their chief income officer and partnership director. In addition they raised an €8.7 million spherical of funding from Asterion Ventures, Bpifrance’s French Tech Seed fund, Kreaxi, Higher Angle, Hey Tomorrow and Grenoble Alpes Métropole.

This curiosity comes as a result of the paradigm round semiconducting diamonds has modified within the final two years. “Diamonds are not a laboratory topic: They’ve turn out to be an industrial actuality, with startups, with producers on this subject, and with the companions now we have round us,” Chicot instructed Prime Time News24.

Getting out of the lab

Silicon continues to be essentially the most broadly used semiconductor materials in electronics as a result of it’s ubiquitous and low-cost. However there’s hope different choices might sometime outperform it, and never simply in labs. Tesla’s choice to make use of silicon carbide as a substitute of silicon was an essential step in that route, and diamond could possibly be subsequent.

As a result of diamond is of course extra proof against excessive temperatures and extra energy-efficient, Diamfab envisions a future during which a given element will want a a lot smaller floor of artificial diamond than of silicon carbide, which can make it aggressive on value.

The agency’s long-term objective is to make extra environment friendly semiconductors with a decrease carbon footprint, whereas additionally supporting what Chicot refers to as “the electrification of society,” beginning with transportation.

Diamond-based electronics open the door to purposes within the subject of energy electronics — consider smaller batteries and chargers with extra autonomy, as a result of much less temperature management is required, which is especially related for the automotive sector and electrical mobility.  However diamond wafers is also leveraged for nuclear batteries, area tech and quantum computing, too.

The case for diamond as a greater various to silicon doesn’t come out of nowhere; Diamfab is constructing on the Institut Néel’s 30 years of R&D into artificial diamond development. Its founders needed to take this expertise out of the lab. “We needed to be helpful pioneers,” Chicot mentioned.

Being awarded the Jury’s Grand Prize of i-Lab in 2019 was a turning level for the agency. Co-organized by French establishments, it introduced grants and a way of validation that helped the group inwards and outwards.

With this seal of approval, “banks belief you even for those who don’t generate any gross sales,” Chicot mentioned.”It was an actual plus at first to get this award. And it was partly as a result of now we have nice expertise, and partly as a result of it’s expertise that’s essential for the world.”

Diamond guarantees

French public sector funding financial institution Bpifrance, one of many organizers of the i-Lab awards, is doubling down on Diamfab with funding from the French Tech Seed fund, which Bpifrance manages on behalf of the French authorities as a part of the France 2030 plan.

When silicon has turn out to be a commodity, Diamfab’s high-value-added diamond wafers could possibly be made in Europe and bought at a premium warranted by their larger effectivity, which additionally ties into the inexperienced transition. Decarbonization is one key objective of France 2030, and diamonds might assist.

Their carbon footprint can be lighter due to the smaller floor that diamond requires compares to silicon carbide, but additionally as a result of Diamfab synthetizes its diamonds from methane. Sooner or later, this supply could possibly be biomethane, giving a business outlet to this byproduct of recycling.

Picture Credit: Diamfab

Most of this, nonetheless, continues to be sooner or later. Diamfab isn’t a long time away from its targets, however says it should want 5 years for its expertise to have the ability to help the mass manufacturing of diamond wafers that match business necessities. This implies taking its know-how in rising and doping diamond layers on one-inch wafers, and making use of it to the four-inch wafers that silicon carbide already works on. Even with sufficient funding to help a small pilot manufacturing line, this can take just a few years.

This five-year horizon made Diamfab a no-go for some VCs; whereas these could also be sympathetic to the thought of reindustrializing Europe with cutting-edge innovation, their liquidity cycles make most of these investments harder. However Chicot finally managed to spherical up the €8.7 million that can assist the startup undergo its pre-industrialization section.

Grenoble, a deep tech hub

The group of buyers which have rallied round Diamfab is  “balanced,” Chicot mentioned, together with public gamers, evergreen fund Asterion Labs, and supporters of Diamfab’s area, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, and its metropolis of Grenoble.

Whereas there’s warranted hype round AI in Paris, Grenoble will be the closest to a French Silicon Valley. In no small half because of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Louis Néel, the Alpine metropolis’s concentrate on electronics turned it right into a deep tech hub that’s now additionally a part of the dialog on each inexperienced tech and sovereign tech.

Grenoble startups that pop to thoughts embrace Verkor, which secured greater than €2 billion for its gigafactory in Northern France, and Renaissance Fusion, which raised $16.4 million final yr to construct nuclear fusion expertise in Europe. However Diamfab might benefirt extra from its partnerships with bigger gamers with native ties, together with CEA, Schneider Electrical, Soitec and STMicroelectronics.

There’s little question that extra semiconductors will come out of the French Alps. As each the EU and the U.S. adopted Chip Acts to scale back their dependency in Asia, France is about to offer €2.9 billion in help for the upcoming joint manufacturing facility of STMicroelectronics and GlobalFoundries, and Soitec lately opened a fourth manufacturing facility close by. Now Diamfab hopes it might play an element, too, and unleash the complete potential of diamond in semiconductors.

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