Solid-State Plasma Lighting: The Benefits and Target Apps for LEPs   Oct. 10, 2017

Plasmablog.jpgPlasma lighting – also commonly referred to as light emitting plasma (LEP) – is quickly evolving into a mainstream technology, and is on a trajectory to supplant LEDs and high intensity discharge (HID) lighting across a host of applications where plasma lighting outperforms legacy light sources. The first step in this evolution toward commercial-scale adoption was to overcome the reliability and lifespan limitations of earlier-generation magnetron-powered plasma lights. This was made possible via innovations in solid-state plasma lights, powered by RF Energy, and underpinned by GaN semiconductor technology. Check out our earlier blog post on this topic to read more: RF Energy in Daily Life: Plasma Lighting.

The next step in this evolution was to help enable commercial OEMs to adapt their product designs to incorporate GaN-on-Si-based RF Energy, making it easier for them to take advantage of this unfamiliar technology. Leveraging an RF Energy Toolkit, lighting system designers are now well equipped to reduce development complexities and costs, and accelerate their time to market with solid-state plasma lighting – it will not be long before we see this technology in commercial production. In this blog post we will take a look at some of LEPs’ key benefits, and the mainstream applications where solid-state plasma lighting is primed for adoption.


One of plasma lighting’s major advantages over legacy light sources is its ability to emit a lot of light from a very small space. LEPs are characterized by extremely high lumen density – an LEP bulb the size of your fingertip can produce 10,000 lumens of light. In contrast, a similarly-sized, high-density LED light would need an array of LED in something like a 100cm x 100cm panel.

LEPs are therefore well suited for implementation in vehicle headlights, as they can provide considerably brighter illumination than LEDs, HIDs and halogen lights in a given form factor. This ensures better road visibility and improved driver/passenger safety – benefits that we anticipate will be replicated in other transportation modes, including trains, marine vessels and beyond.

LEPs are also ideal for science and medical applications where bright, high-quality light is essential, but there is limited space available to deploy it in. The use cases here could include everything from operating rooms and medical labs, to endoscopy devices and microscopes. 


The high lumen density of LEPs also makes them an ideal candidate for replacing LEDs and high pressure sodium (HPS) lights for wide area lighting in environments like parking lots, warehouses, stadiums, airports and shipping ports. The high level of visual acuity and enhanced color rendering enabled by LEPs also gives them an edge in outdoor showrooms like car dealerships where consumers are drawn to brighter, crisper viewing experiences.

In all of these wide area lighting use cases, the high levels of visual acuity and the even light distribution delivered with plasma lights ensure that everyone in the vicinity has greater awareness of their surroundings. This can improve safety among workers and pedestrians alike, while helping to enable to higher-quality workplaces (and play spaces!).


One application where plasma lighting has already made considerable inroads is horticulture. Grow lighting environments, both big and small, are benefitting from LEPs’ unique ability to emit a continuous, full-spectrum light akin to natural sunlight – including ultraviolet UVA and UVB – without the need for a secondary phosphor conversion such as those used by LEDs.

Plasma grow lights also enable the unique capability to tune the lighting to different frequencies and light spectrums. Plant growth can be enhanced in many ways depending on the type of light emitted on specific parts of the plant, so spectrum tunability can be invaluable for growing healthier plants, fruits, vegetables etc., and can also help increase the potency of plant-based medicines.


Designers of next-generation lighting systems are of course also mindful of power efficiency and associated OPEX considerations, as well as reliability issues that could lead to higher maintenance costs. After all, producing brighter, higher-quality, full spectrum light is only beneficial to the extent that it can be cost-effectively implemented. 

With LEPs, the source efficacy – or lumens created per watt consumed – is up to 20% higher than HID sources, and will be comparable to LED source efficacy. Since LEP bulbs do not utilize electrodes – which degrade over time and represent a common point of failure for many legacy light sources – they are considerably more reliable, and have demonstrated 50,000 hour lifespans.


The benefits of solid-state plasma lighting are manifold, making LEPs an attractive option for a wide range of applications going forward. In a subsequent blog post, we’ll do a deeper dive on the many benefits of LEPs relative to LEDs, addressing some of the common points of comparison between these two trendy technologies. We’ll also take a closer look at how GaN-on-Si technology impacts the respective design considerations for LEP and LED light fixtures. In the meantime, there is plenty of additional background information available on RF Energy technology and target applications if you’re interested in learning more. 

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RF Energy in Daily Life Part 4: GaN for Industrial Heating and Drying   Sep. 12, 2017

BlogRFEIndustrial.jpgGallium Nitride (GaN) and RF (Radio Frequency) Energy applications are on the cusp of transforming the industrial market. We have examined how GaN has changed cooking, plasma lighting and medical processes, and in part four of our RF Energy in Daily Life series, we are going to look at GaN for industrial heating and drying.

From an industrial standpoint, RF Energy is not new. RF dryers have been used for industrial heating and drying of materials that don’t respond well to traditional methods for years. Ceramics, glass and fiberglass applications require processes that dry without cracking. Where other methods failed entirely, in many cases, RF Energy provides the only option for drying these materials, as it can eliminate moisture in a controlled way.

Innovations in RF technology will allow for greater efficiencies and control throughout the heating and drying process going forward. Yesterday’s RF applications required the use of a magnetron to generate energy, but by using semiconductor devices, the total system cost structure is lowered and the applications have greater precision and control. The resulting uses for food processing, industrial heating and drying, and the energy industry are just the beginning. The low costs and high precision involved are allowing industry leaders like MACOM to deploy innovations throughout the marketplace.

Agricultural Processes and RF Energy

In previous blog posts, we have discussed how consumer cooking capabilities will be revolutionized by RF technology. However, the applications for food processing begin much earlier in the supply chain, with the role of RF in assisting the pasteurizing and drying processes. As the National Institutes for Health (NIH) points out, drying is an indispensable process in many food industries and in many agricultural countries. Their research states, “Large quantities of food products are dried to improve shelf life, reduce packaging cost, lower shipping weights, enhance appearance, encapsulate original flavor and maintain nutritional value.”

The higher precision and control of RF Energy for commercial drying processes provides considerable benefits to numerous other agricultural applications. For example, farmers and industrial food producers battle harvesting crops against the wreckage caused by longer drying times. For grains, legumes and seeds, RF drying methods eliminate moisture faster and reduce processing times, allowing crops to be used for maximum potential and nutritional benefit. Not only can RF Energy cook the food in your home more efficiently, it will also become part of the agricultural processes to get quality nutrition to your door. MACOM and the RF Energy Alliance are leading the way in enabling solid-state technology for these applications, removing price and size barriers from the process.

Paper, Textiles and Wood   

In their book Radio-Frequency Heating in Food Processing: Principles and Applications, George B. Awuah, Hosahalli S. Ramaswamy and Juming Tang detail applications from dried vegetables to alfalfa that are enabled by RF heating and drying methods. They also note that wood, plastics, pharmaceuticals, papers and textiles all can use RF Energy for lower costs and increased efficiencies to the industrial process. As RF energy changes the basic steps in manufacturing for each of these materials, the applications are expected to expand as well. Leaders like MACOM are changing the basics of industry by combining GaN and solid-state semiconductor technology with these processes for widespread use with lower costs.

Oil Extraction  

RF Energy uses less energy than traditional drying and heating methods, and the level of precision allows every watt to be used efficiently. From a conservation standpoint, this benefits the industry in two ways – less cost and greater control.

But another energy benefit beyond consumption is the industrial drying and heating applications of GaN and RF as they apply to the oil industry. Companies like Suncor are already experimenting with RF Energy to add heat to the oil extraction process and produce heavy crude. Chevron has filed patent claims on the use of RF in multi-step processes as a method of extraction as well. These techniques will allow oil companies more access to oil with greater control over their extraction. Less waste, higher return on deposits, and a lower cost for heating and extraction processes stand ready to change the oil industry.

Reduced Environmental Impact

Employing solid state technology is expected to change the environmental impact of oil extraction as well. Fracking is an oil extraction technique that involves using heated water and chemicals to produce crude oil. The side effects of the process include polluted water and even manmade earthquakes. RF Energy allows for a cost effective alternative that reduces the water used and the resultant polluted debris. In addition, the precision of these oil extraction methods leads to less overall environmental impact. Higher levels of control allow RF Energy to improve extraction methods while also reducing Greenhouse gas emissions.

Improved Reliability

Another benefit of solid state RF Energy devices in these industrial applications that shouldn’t be forgotten is the improved reliability it brings to processes that often run 24/7. While magnetron based systems typically degrade over time and need constant maintenance or replacement, the new solid state based systems are capable of running free of maintenance, without experiencing any degradation.

Industry and Beyond

As the opportunities for RF energy to enable improved processes with more control continue to grow, MACOM continues to work with industry leaders to apply best practices and enable RF Energy with our GaN-on-Silicon (GaN-on-Si) solutions. Be sure to learn more about the trending applications for RF Energy and how they apply to you in daily life, and check out MACOM’s toolkit, created to ease the process of designing with RF Energy applications.  

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The Evolution of the Microwave: From Magnetrons to Solid-State Energy   Aug. 22, 2017

EvolutionBlogMicrowave.jpg (104438118)2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the invention of the microwave oven. Today an indispensable appliance in homes all around the world, the microwave has transformed the way we cook and prepare our food. Nevertheless technology is improving and advancing every day, and a new and improved microwave could be closer than you think.

The Beginning

The microwave was first invented in 1945, when a self-taught engineer by the name of Percy Spencer working for Raytheon discovered that the micro-waves emitting from an active radar set had melted a candy bar in his pocket. Spencer began experimenting and used the radar to pop popcorn and cook an egg, ultimately attaching a high density electromagnetic field generator to an enclosed metal box and testing different foods inside. Raytheon patented Spencer’s invention in 1945, and by 1947 had released the first microwave oven (then known as a Radarange) to the public. The device stood more than 5 feet off the ground, weighed 750 pounds, cost >$5,000 and used 3 kilowatts of power, almost three times as much as the typical household microwave uses today. It was twenty years before an affordable and economical microwave oven became available for sale.

Inside the Microwave Oven

This first microwave oven cooked food by transmitting the microwave radiation into the food to heat it. These microwaves were powered by magnetrons, high-powered vacuum tubes that create energy through interacting electrons in a magnetic field. As magnetrons penetrate an object, the electric dipole molecules rotate and bump into other molecules in an attempt to align themselves with the alternating electric field, thereby producing heat. The electric dipole molecules in salted liquids react the most, and are therefore heated the most, which is one of the main reasons why the typical magnetron-powered microwave may produce food with uneven hot and cold spots.

The Future of Cooking

Despite the significant evolution of the microwave over the last 50 years, the use of magnetrons in the microwave has remained fairly unchallenged. Recent technology advancements, made possible by efforts like the RF Energy Alliance (RFEA) and MACOM’s GaN-on-Silicon (GaN-on-Si), are today challenging the traditional microwave and enabling a modernized microwave powered by a solid-state RF energy source, capable of more precise and exact heating and cooking. RF energy uses precision controlled electromagnetic energy to heat items, boasting “an unprecedented control range, even energy distribution, and fast adaption to changing load conditions” (RF Energy Alliance) and can easily provide power for many different processes, perhaps most notably cooking and heating applications.

A solid-state RF transistor is capable of generating hyper-accurate, controllable and responsive energy fields, enabling a precise and ideal distribution of RF energy to ideally heat food to precise specifications. MACOM’s GaN-on-Si 300W transistor, for example, provides improved energy efficiency up to >80% in a typical cooking recipe in a small form factor at 2.45 GHz. While magnetron-powered microwaves have an average lifespan of 500 to 1,000 hours, with new solid-state RF energy transistors, we begin to see the potential for lifespans that surpass 10 years. Overcooking, and cold spots may soon be a thing of the past.

After 50 years of steady developments but essentially the same core microwave oven, the advancements of the RF Energy Alliance, together with MACOM’s GaN-on-Si technology performance, can revolutionize the microwave oven as we know it. MACOM is excited to be at the forefront of these technology breakthroughs, and make our mark on history by enabling an innovative and smarter kitchen for the world. 

The Microwave Oven and Solid-State RF Energy (Click to Enlarge - Infographic Courtesy of the RF Energy Alliance

RFEA_Microwave_Infograph (1).jpg     

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Solving the Need for Speed in Cloud Data Centers with Etched Facet Technology   Aug. 08, 2017

EFT Blog Image 2.jpg

Solving the Need for Speed in Cloud Data Centers with Etched Facet Technology 

The demand by Cloud Data Centers for faster data delivery speeds at cost-effective prices is growing rapidly. Higher speeds are necessary for Cloud Data Centers to process the current explosion in traffic. Mobile and video use drove data center traffic to 4.7 zettabytes (ZB), or almost five trillion gigabytes (GB), in 2015, and Cloud traffic will hit 14.1 ZB in 2020. Cisco predicts that in 2020, 92 percent of Data Center bandwidth will be used by cloud data workloads rather than traditional workloads. As expected, the requirements Cloud Data Centers have for resiliency and data redundancy when processing cloud data traffic necessitate high data transfer speeds.

The Need for Speed - but who is behind the wheel?

This need for speed is driven primarily by the large public cloud providers, such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon. Analysts predict that the market for Data Center solutions will increase from an $18.6 billion market in 2015 to a $32.3 billion market in 2020. Solutions that also reduce operational cost through increased efficiency will be the most in demand.

Due to this enormous growth in traffic, Cloud Data Center operators are working to increase data delivery speeds from 100G to 400G as quickly as possible. But, there are considerations that must be made by these operators when evaluating solutions that can increase speed. These solutions will only work if they also reduce space requirements, power consumption and operational costs.


So, if space, power consumption and operational costs are a factor, the components (Lasers, Drivers, Amplifiers, PHYs etc.) going into these Cloud Data Centers must optimize these traits. One solution to the need for speed is the use of Etched Facet Technology (EFT) over traditional Cleaved Facet Technology (CFT). By utilizing EFT over CFT, manufacturers can offer smaller, more efficient and less expensive optical transceiver modules for optical interconnects used for high-speed data transfer at Cloud Data Centers.

EFT versus CFT


Figure 1. Source: Etched Facet Technology: Lighting the Path to 400G and Beyond in the Cloud Data Center

Let’s look at some of the reasons why EFT offers an effective solution to the need for speed. Lasers formed with the traditional CFT process are created from mechanically separated (or cleaved) wafers, and then stacked to create mirrors. EFT creates mirrors on the surface of the wafer using high-precision chemical etching. Thus, there are many advantages to using EFT in manufacturing over CFT:

  • EFT is a more precise process than CFT, therefore reducing the risk of defects due to cleaving.
  • Testing when using CFT is expensive and can only be done at laser bar level. With EFT, testing can easily be done at a full wafer level, covering the whole range of temperatures.
  • EFT provides an accurate location of the facet relative to alignment marks, whereas CFT cannot control the exact location of the facet. Using EFT, MACOM developed the proprietary self-alignment (SAEFT™) technology to attach lasers to silicon chips rather than using the slow active alignment process — thereby enabling more cost effectiveness at mass production levels.
  • EFT allows high yield production of short cavity lasers, which is critical for high speed applications.
  • EFT allows placing two lasers with a predetermined cavity length difference to increase the single mode yield.
  • EFT can reduce laser beam divergence to increase fiber coupling efficiency.
  • EFT can produce very low reflectivity facet by etching the facet at an angle, which is crucial for Semiconductor Optical Amplifier (SOA) applications.
  • EFT can generate surface emission by etching the facet at an angle and custom angles, which is critical for Silicon Photonic (SiPh) chips with grating coupler.
  • Non-hermetic passivation coating can be more effectively applied to EFT lasers on wafer scale, as compared to CFT lasers, which are coated on bar level.

Implementing the Advantages of Etched Facet Technology (EFT)

The advantages of EFT allow facets to be defined through high precision photolithography, rather than imprecise cleaving. This results in an unprecedented uniformity and yield, as well as the capability to build structures that are impossible to realize with conventional techniques. With no dependency on the crystallographic plane of the wafer, unique anti-reflection geometries can be used in place of expensive coatings.

Due to the EFT process, MACOM is able to more fully evaluate all of our lasers on the wafer in an automated, high-throughput test operation, in addition to dramatically reducing the cost of chip-handling. This process has enabled the integration of silicon PICs with lasers, creating the very first L-PIC™, or lasers integrated with a photonic integrated circuit. MACOM’s L-PIC enables a lower cost, efficient and high-yield data transfer solution, increasing the feasibility of adopting PICs as high density optical interconnect solutions for Cloud Data Centers.

In cost-sensitive markets, solutions like MACOM’s EFT process enable high precision chemical etching, minimize the risk of laser defects, reduce the overall cost of manufacturing lasers and offer a cost-effective and scalable solution, thereby delivering the products and solutions that will meet this upward need for speed. 

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