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Cobalt’s Star Rising Even Further in Light of Breakthrough New Applications?

Cobalt is a rising star among critical minerals, in large part because of its key role in battery technology.  However, that’s hardly the only reason. The ongoing materials science revolution has produced a new long-term use for Cobalt that may prove to be a technological breakthrough:

A California-based company has announced that it has found a way to accelerate chip performance using Cobalt instead of more traditional materials used as conducting materials in transistor contacts and interconnects such as Tungsten and Copper.

Says Dr. Prabu Raja, senior Vice President of Applied Science’s Semiconductor Products Group:

“Five years ago, Applied anticipated an inflection in the transistor contact and interconnect, and we began developing an alternative materials solution that could take us beyond the 10nm node. (…) Applied brought together its experts in chemistry, physics, engineering and data science to explore the broad portfolio of Applied’s technologies and create a breakthrough Integrated Materials Solution for the industry. As we enter the big data and AI era, there will be more of these inflections, and we are excited to be having earlier and deeper collaborations with our customers to accelerate their roadmaps and enable devices we never dreamed possible.”

One benefit of using Cobalt over the traditionally used materials is that these were “no longer scalable beyond the 10nm foundry node because their electrical performance has reached physical limits for transistor contacts and local interconnects.” The use of Cobalt removes a bottleneck that prevented the achievement of “full performance potential of FinFET transistors.” 

According to the company, Cobalt may be “challenging to integrate,” but yields “lower resistance and variability at small dimensions, improved gapfill at very fine dimensions; and improved reliability.”

The ongoing revolution in materials science – which we have previously characterized as “a rapidly accelerating effort that is unlocking the potential of scores of metals and minerals long known but seldom utilized in our tools and technologies” — represents a paradigm shift for traditional supply and demand scenarios for the raw materials that fuel it.

This specific new application will not change the supply and demand scenario for Cobalt overnight, but it is another reminder that the continued advance of technology underscores the need for comprehensive policy reform rather than a patchwork of piecemeal approaches.