Sunovia Energy Technologies, Inc. and EPIR Technologies, Inc. (EPIR) are pleased to announce the award of the second year of a three-year, Phase III SBIR contract from the US Army for developing the manufacturing infrastructure for the commercialization of cadmium telluride (CdTe) on silicon (Si) as the key precursor substrate for the creation of mercury (Hg) cadmium telluride (MCT) based infrared (IR) imaging cameras and systems. This contract is a significant step in the commercialization of the companies' HgCdTe and CdTe infrared and solar cell product lines, and reinforces our position as a key developer and supplier of advanced night vision materials.
As explained in previous Sunovia press releases, the development of high-efficiency IR materials and solar photovoltaic (PV) materials are very similar, with IR material development being a much more difficult and precise process than solar cell development. The companies have exclusively partnered to market the night vision materials to the military and commercial markets, and to create a high throughput CdTe solar cell production facility. The companies announced on March 14, 2008, the completion of Phase I of the manufacturing facility, and expect to begin initial production of HgCdTe materials within 12 months.
The funding for the Phase III program originated from a Congressional plus-up of $9 million dollars for a three-year program. The general recognition of the great importance to the national security of EPIR's crucial contributions to the creation of high-quality large area focal plane arrays at potentially greatly reduced costs was evidenced by the passage of this plus-up. It was the only plus-up voted through both Houses of Congress with no reduction in funds in either House, and EPIR has been the only company awarded funds from this plus-up, which was spearheaded by Sen. Dick Durbin, the Assistant Majority Leader of the Senate, and Rep. Judy Biggert. Of potentially even greater importance, these technology and manufacturing efforts create the foundation for the development and manufacture of low cost, ultra high-efficiency solar cells based on the CdTe/Si platform.
As the leading material for IR detection and imaging and one of the most important semiconductor materials, MBE grown MCT is vital to the U.S. Armed Forces stated doctrine of "Owning the Night" and has many potentially very large civilian applications in areas of law enforcement, security and environment protection. The traditional substrate for its growth, cadmium zinc telluride (CZT), however, is expensive and fragile, is available only in small areas, and is available only from a single foreign supplier, making the U.S. vulnerable to a cutoff in its supply. The founder and President of EPIR, Dr. Siva Sivananthan, was the first to recognize and take seriously this threat. His vision led him to become the leading pioneer of CdTe/Si technology and of the MBE growth of MCT. EPIR's core expertise has centered on these technologies. CdTe/Si provides a much larger area for the MCT growth and is much more robust and less expensive than CZT for the growth of MCT. Moreover, the ready availability of CdTe/Si substrates will eliminate the dependence of the U.S. Armed Forces on a single foreign source for substrates for MCT growth. The benefits of the technologies developed by EPIR Technologies were recognized by Dr. A. Fenner Milton, the Director of NVESD, who in 1995 referred to MCT focal plane arrays epitaxially grown on Si as one of six "Holy Grails" of night vision sensor technology.
The award of the second year contract followed the very successful completion of the first year's work by EPIR. During year one of the contract, EPIR succeeded in constructing a large, highly sophisticated, facility for the surface preparation of the Si wafers to be used, for the manufacture and characterization of 3-inch diameter CdTe/Si substrates and for MCT growth on those substrates. EPIR established a detailed set of protocols for the manufacture of CdTe/Si and of MCT on the CdTe/Si substrates. MBE machines of a design similar to those used for commercial manufacturing were used to initiate a small-scale manufacturing effort. Dr. Michael Carmody, formerly a Senior Scientist leading the HgCdTe on Si technology development at Teledyne Imaging Sensors was brought to EPIR to lead this effort and the high throughput MBE growth of II-VI solar cells. Within three months of beginning trial manufacturing, EPIR has been able to consistently and reproducibly produce state-of-the-art CdTe/Si wafers having the highest crystalline quality across the entire wafer. Without EPIR's great experience and expertise, to achieve such quality, reproducibility and lateral uniformity normally would be at least a three-year project. Dr. Carmody says that "EPIR is in the process of developing a world class production facility for the MBE growth of II-VI materials for infrared detector and solar cell applications. With the help of the Army Phase III program, and the addition of several key personnel, EPIR Technology is quickly making the transition from a small research and development laboratory with strong university ties to an independent facility capable of the world class MBE growth of II-VI materials."
As a result of this funding, EPIR is commercializing IR materials and detectors capable of delivering improved images and enhanced target identification. Discriminating between real targets and nonthreatening possible targets such as civilians, allies and decoys is essential to the U.S. forces rules of engagement. From ground troops to low altitude flying unmanned aircraft to satellites, our products have the potential to improve performance, increase awareness, distinguish real threats from nonthreatening events, save lives and improve safety.
Of even greater lasting importance, the manufacturing technology being developed is of immense direct value to the development and manufacture of lower cost, ultra high-efficiency solar cells fabricated from group II-VI semiconductor structures on Si, now underway at the facilities. The technologies developed by EPIR, with their numerous demonstrated applications, have been adopted by many customers, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Missile Defense Agency, the U.S. Army and Air Force, and the major players in the U.S. defense industry. EPIR has repeatedly gained customer confidence in its products. Innovations related to artificially synthesized crystals of II-VI semiconductors grown on silicon and to advanced IR detector technology developed by EPIR have been recognized by numerous agencies, and over 40 government awards have been received by EPIR for that and closely related work during the past decade.