Project Overview

In late 2019, Silex launched a R&D project in conjunction with project partners Silicon Quantum Computing Pty Ltd (SQC) and UNSW Sydney (UNSW) to develop a process for the commercial production of high-purity ‘Zero-Spin Silicon’ (ZS-Si) using a variant of the SILEX laser isotope separation (LIS) technology. The project was successfully completed during FY2023 and demonstrated efficient production of gram quantities of ZS-Si (in the form of halo-silane), with enrichment of silicon-28 up to ~99.998% purity. Additionally, a path to production scalability was also verified.

ZS-Si is a unique form of isotopically enriched silicon, which is a key enabling material for the fabrication of next generation processor chips that will power silicon-based quantum computers. Until recently, most of the world’s supply of enriched silicon came from Russia, produced with conventional centrifuge technology. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted this supply, which has given rise to some urgency in establishing alternative supply. Silex aims to provide a secure and resilient alternative source of enriched silicon for users around the world.  

Quantum Silicon Production Project:

The launch of the new Quantum Silicon Production Project was announced on 17 August 2023, and is being undertaken in conjunction with partners SQC and UNSW. The new Project’s objective is to establish the first Quantum Silicon Production Plant and develop the skills and capability to manufacture commercial ‘Quantum Silicon’ (Q-Si) products, produced from ZS-Si halo-silane, in multiple product forms at commercial scale.

The new 3.5-year Project has been awarded $5.1m in funding from the Defence Trailblazer for Concept to Sovereign Capability Program, a strategic partnership between The University of Adelaide and UNSW Sydney, supported by the Department of Education through the Trailblazer Universities Program.

If successful, the Quantum Silicon Production Project will establish an end-to-end manufacturing facility at the Company’s Lucas Heights technology centre. It is anticipated that the first production module will produce between 5kg to 10kg annually of ZS-Si (in the form of halo-silane), which will then be converted to multiple Q-Si product forms required by potential customers in the global silicon-based quantum computing industry.

The Production Plant will include significant additional equipment for conversion of ZS-Si into two different product forms that are compatible with quantum chip fabrication technologies utilised by manufacturers, namely:

Quantum Silane gas – used in chemical vapour deposition (CVD) based processes utilised for quantum chip fabrication

Quantum Silicon solid – used in molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) based processes utilised for quantum chip fabrication.

A key benefit of the SILEX laser isotope separation technology is its modular nature, allowing the possibility for the Production Plant to be scaled up with additional modules, based on market demand and other factors.

Silex will retain ownership of the ZS-Si and Q-Si production technology and related Intellectual Property developed through the Project.

Background to Silicon Quantum Computing

Australia is at the forefront of global efforts to develop and commercialise quantum computing and associated quantum technologies, which have the potential to underpin transformational technological advancements in many fields, including artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced communications, and sensing, and in complex global industries, such as defence and aerospace, finance, biomedical science, chemicals, and logistics. UNSW Sydney and its commercial spin out, SQC, are world leaders in developing silicon-based quantum computing technology, which, if successful, will allow Australia to establish sovereign capability in a key strategic technology that will advance the country’s future defence, national security, and economic competitiveness in the emerging quantum technology era.

Many other countries around the world are also investing heavily in the development of quantum computing technology, with governments and key corporates (such as Intel, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others) vying for leadership in this emerging strategic industry.

Silicon-based quantum computing technology is reliant on the use of enriched silicon, as natural silicon prohibits the fundamental operation of quantum spin qubits. Current methods for production of enriched silicon are limited and costly, with only small quantities produced annually, mostly using gas centrifuge technology in Russia. Due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, this fragile supply chain has been disrupted, which could threaten the viability of silicon quantum computing. Should the Q-Si Production Project be successful, it could potentially enable Australia to establish itself as a world-leader in Q-Si production.

Zero-Spin and Quantum Silicon Production

ZS-Si is a key enabling material for the silicon QC processor chip. Natural silicon (Si) consists of 3 isotopes: 92.2% Si-28, 3.1% Si-30 (each with zero electron spin state) and 4.7% Si-29 (with a spin state of ½). The presence of Si-29 in concentrations above 500 parts per million (ppm) (0.05%) prevents effective QC performance, so ZS-Si must be produced by elimination of the Si-29 isotope. The lower the concentration of Si-29, the better a silicon quantum processor will perform in terms of computational power, accuracy and reliability.

ZS-Si (in the form of halo-silane) is planned to be converted using the Quantum Silicon Production Plant into multiple Q-Si product forms that are required by potential customers in the global silicon-based quantum computing industry.