Thin-Film Hybrid Oxide-Organic Microprocessor

Holst Centre, imec and their partner Evonik have realized a general-purpose 8-bit microprocessor, manufactured using complementary thin-film transistors (TFTs) processed at temperatures compatible with plastic foil substrates (250°C). The new “hybrid” technology integrates two types of semiconductors—metal-oxide for n-type TFTs (iXsenic, Evonik) and organic molecules for p-type TFTs—in a CMOS microprocessor circuit, operating at unprecedented for TFT technologies speed—clock frequency 2.1kHz. The breakthrough results were published online in Scientific Reports, an open access journal from the publisher of Nature.

Low temperature thin-film electronics are based on organic and metal-oxide semiconductors. They have the potential to be produced in a cost effective way using large-area manufacturing processes on plastic foils. Thin-film electronics are, therefore, attractive alternatives for silicon chips in simple IC applications, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and near field communication (NFC) tags and sensors for smart food packaging, and in large-area electronic applications, such as flexible displays, sensor arrays and OLED lamps. Holst Centre’s (imec and TNO) research into thin-film electronics aims at developing a robust, foil-compatible, high performance technology platform, which is key to making these new applications become a reality.

The novel 8-bit microprocessor performs at a clock frequency of 2.1 kHz. It consists of two separate chips: a processor core chip and a general-purpose instruction generator (P2ROM). For the processor core chip, a complementary hybrid organic-oxide technology was used (p:n ratio 3:1). The n-type transistors are 250°C solution-processed metal-oxide TFTs with typically high charge carrier mobility (2 cm2/Vs). The p-type transistors are small molecule organic TFTs with mobility of up to 1 cm2/Vs. The complementary logic allows for a more complex and complete standard cell library, including additional buffering in the core and the implementation of a mirror adder in the critical path. These optimizations have resulted in a high maximum clock frequency of 2.1kHz. The general-purpose instruction generator or P2ROM is a one-time programmable ROM memory configured by means of inkjet printing, using a conductive silver ink. The chip is divided into a hybrid complementary part and a unipolar n-TFT part and is capable of operating at frequencies up to 650 Hz, at an operational voltage of Vdd=10V.

Interested companies can join Holst Centre’s R&D program on organic and oxide transistors, exploring and developing new technologies for producing thin-film transistors (TFTs) on plastic foils.

About imec
Imec performs world-leading research in nanoelectronics. Imec leverages its scientific knowledge with the innovative power of its global partnerships in ICT, healthcare and energy. Imec delivers industry-relevant technology solutions. In a unique high-tech environment, its international top talent is committed to providing the building blocks for a better life in a sustainable society. Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium, and has offices in the Netherlands, Taiwan, US, China, India and Japan. Its staff of over 2,080 people includes more than 670 industrial residents and guest researchers. In 2013, imec’s revenue (P&L) totaled 332 million euro. Further information on imec can be found at www.imec.be. Stay up to date about what’s happening at imec with the monthly imec magazine, available for tablets and smartphones (as an app for iOS and Android), or via the website www.imec.be/imecmagazine
Imec is a registered trademark for the activities of IMEC International (a legal entity set up under Belgian law as a “stichting van openbaar nut”), imec Belgium (IMEC vzw supported by the Flemish Government), imec the Netherlands (Stichting IMEC Nederland, part of Holst Centre which is supported by the Dutch Government), imec Taiwan (IMEC Taiwan Co.) and imec China (IMEC Microelectronics (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.) and imec India (Imec India Private Limited).

About Holst Centre
Holst Centre is an independent open-innovation R&D center that develops generic technologies for Wireless Autonomous Transducer Solutions and for Systems-in-Foil. A key feature of Holst Centre is its partnership model with industry and academia around shared roadmaps and programs. It is this kind of cross-fertilization that enables Holst Centre to tune its scientific strategy to industrial needs.
Holst Centre was set up in 2005 by imec (Flanders, Belgium) and TNO (The Netherlands) with support from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Government of Flanders. It is named after Gilles Holst, a Dutch pioneer in Research and Development and first director of Philips Research.
Located on High Tech Campus Eindhoven, Holst Centre benefits from the state-of-the-art on-site facilities. Holst Centre has over 180 employees from around 28 nationalities and a commitment from more than 45 industrial partners.
Visit us at www.holstcentre.com