Gallium nitride, or GaN, has been dubbed the silicon of the future and is quickly proliferating throughout the power electronics world due to its wide range of semiconductor applications. But just what is this material and why is causing such a stir in the electronics industry?
What is gallium nitride?
Gallium nitride is a transparent, glass-like material that could one day unseat silicon from its position as the backbone of the technology industry and cut energy consumption worldwide. Made up of gallium and nitrogen, gallium nitride is a wide bandgap semiconductor with faster switching speed, higher thermal conductivity and higher breakdown strength than silicon.
All materials have a ‘bandgap’, which relates to how well they conduct electricity. The wide bandgap of GaN allows it to sustain higher voltages than silicon and for the current to run through the device more quickly. That makes GaN electronics more efficient than their silicon counterparts and allows for charging devices that are not only smaller but that also use between 10% and 25% less energy.
How are gallium nitride devices made?
One benefit of the rise in the usage of GaN as a semiconductor is the fact that it can be produced using standard silicon manufacturing procedures and in the same factories that currently produce silicon semiconductors without significant reinvestment. However, it is worth saying that to get the most out of GaN, specialist factories would have to be developed.
As GaN devices are so much more efficient than traditional silicon semiconductors, much smaller GaN devices can deliver the same level of performance as silicon semiconductors. That means many more equivalent GaN devices can be produced per wafer, which reduces the cost of manufacturing and leads to significant savings.
The benefits of gallium nitride
Silicon, which is still the semiconductor of choice for most applications, has plenty going for it. It’s very safe, inexpensive and is compatible with most of our existing semiconductor technologies. However, as devices become more powerful, it’s very quickly reaching its limits, and that’s where the benefits of GaN are really felt.
Innovative power design engineers are now taking advantage of the benefits of GaN to open up new possibilities. The benefits include:
- Reduced energy costs - GaN is inherently more efficient than silicon so less energy is lost as heat. That also leads to smaller sizes and lower material costs.
- Higher breakdown voltage - GaN is ten times more capable of supporting high voltage designs before failing. That makes it superior to silicon in high voltage circuits.
- Higher power density - High operational temperatures and switching frequencies than silicon lead to lower cooling requirements, smaller heat sinks, air cooling rather than liquid cooling and reduced magnetics.
- Higher switching speed - This allows smaller inductors and capacitors to be used in power circuits, reduces the acoustic noise in motor drive applications and enables wireless power transfer at higher powers. The result is a higher level of overall efficiency.
- Lower system costs - Although GaN semiconductors are generally higher cost than silicon, reductions in the size and cost of other components, such as filters, cooling and capacitive circuit elements, lead to typical system savings of 10-20%.
- Higher max operating temperature - GaN is able to operate at higher temperatures with a similar expected lifetime as silicon, or at similar temperatures with a longer life.
What are the applications of gallium nitride?
Gallium nitride has the potential to revolutionise all sorts of power systems. It has long been used in the production of LEDs and RF components but it is now moving to mainstream acceptance across several power switching and conversion applications.
It is finding uses in the mobile phone and laptop industry, with WiFi and GSM signals being transmitted and received using GaN RF devices. It’s also being increasingly used in the chargers and adapters that power these devices. GaN-based products can also increasingly be found in solar power installations.
However, it’s the automotive industry that provides perhaps the biggest growth area for gallium nitride devices. It is becoming the technology of choice for power conversion and fast charging in hybrid and electric cars, providing both a more efficient and more environmentally friendly solution.
Looking for gallium nitride jobs?
31 Jan 2021
State of the Power Electronics Recruitment Market for Design and Sales
After a COVID-sized slump, the power electronics recruitment market for design and sales roles is now recovering. If you’re looking for a talented power electronics professional, our unique insights will show you why now could be a great time to hire.
18 Jan 2021
State of the Power Electronics Jobs Market for Design and Sales
It’s fair to say that the power electronics jobs market has been on a bit of a bumpy road over the last six months. However, if you’re looking for a new role in power electronics sales or design, the good news that the jobs market has bounced back. Demand is now on the up, with employers increasingly looking for candidates with design-in wins.
22 Dec 2020
At PER-International, the COVID-19 hiatus is over and we’re officially back to doing what we do best - connecting the world’s best electronics, power electronics, SMPS, UPS and semiconductor professionals with leading employers around the world.
09 Mar 2020
What is the impact of the coronavirus on the global supply chain?
The coronavirus outbreak has had a significant impact on the global supply chain, but when will it peak and how is it affecting businesses around the world?
24 Jan 2020
How to get a non-EEA visa to work in the UK electronics industry
Calling all migrant electrical engineers – the UK needs you. But how can non-EEA electrical engineers tap into opportunities in the UK electronics industry?
12 Dec 2019
Rapid growth creates skills shortages in the UK electronics sector
The UK electronics sector experienced the fastest rate of growth of any manufacturing sector last year, but a shortage of skilled workers threatens to stop the industry in its tracks.
13 Nov 2019
Electrical engineers are added to the UK’s shortage occupation list
PER-International is happy to report that recent changes to the UK’s visa policy mean that electrical engineers and electronics engineers have now been added to the Shortage Occupation List.
13 Sep 2019
US-China trade war reroutes global electronics supply chains
Global electronics supply chains are being rerouted as a result of the continuing trade war between the US and China. However, it’s the US importers who are being left to pick up the bill.
09 Jul 2019
London’s eco-city aspirations and the role of electric vehicles
With Sadiq Kahn’s ULEZ initiative and the Electric Vehicle Taskforce, we’re being prepped for a fully electrified London. What can we expect and when?
09 Jul 2019
The UK seeks middle ground in Huawei 5G dispute
The UK’s decision not to call for a blanket Huawei ban is its way of securing the network against interference while ensuring its 5G networks are competitive.
29 May 2019
The impact of working from home on employee mental health
The benefits of home working for employee mental health are often cited, but could there also be a damaging side to the flexible working revolution?
29 Apr 2019
Is it time to fundamentally rethink workplace culture?
Have you ever wondered whether there might be something fundamentally wrong with workplace culture? No? What if we told you that research has found that around the world, just 13 percent of employees are engaged…