Gallium nitride has been emerging as one of the key building blocks of the vast range of power electronics. Traditionally, it was silicon that held the position for the MOSFETs (metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistors) that powered up the semiconductors. But as we are entering an era of high power density and energy requirements, newer innovations are filling in the gaps, and hence Gallium Nitride (GaN) comes to the rescue due to its immensely capable performance potential in revolutionizing the semiconductor industry and henceforth, the power switching technological industry. In this feed, we will dive into the world of GaN efficiencies. Continue reading to learn more about the innovative compound.
History And Origin
Gallium is derived from the smelting of bauxite ore into aluminum and also from the processing of sphalerite ore of zinc. It is not found in its elementary form in nature and thus has a low extraction rate and a refined carbon footprint.
It was not until the 1960s that the synthesis of GaN was started, and single crystal films of it were grown. Compared to silicon, it was realized to have a melting point of over 1600 °C, which is 200°C higher than that of silicon. And in the early 1970s, GaN-based light-emitting diodes (LED) were produced, which emerged as quite a milestone. Though it emitted a bluish-violet hue, it was still a win-win over the inefficient incandescent lighting, as only a phosphor coating over the LED could create white light. This was the scenario somewhat during the 1990s. Now, this innovation led to the creation of LED display television sets that toppled previous inventions of cathode ray tube televisions and LCD screens. The market for high-resolution, OLED-based TVs, smartphones, and laptops started emerging.
Apart from its position in the photonics industry, GaN transistors also became commercially available in the market around 2004. They were high electron mobility transistors that were used in radio frequency (RF) infrastructure applications due to their high voltage capabilities. Post 2008, the promulgation of GaN-based MOSFETS was also witnessed.
What Is So Special About The GaN Compound?
Silicon has been the pillar of semiconductor technology since its inception, from the manufacturing of smartphones to computers and other gadgets. But researchers and scientists are close to determining silicon-based semiconductors’ theoretical limits. Here they have witnessed some victories over the last few decades, and hence gallium nitride has emerged as a robust contender to silicon-based solutions.
Silicon Vs. Gallium Nitride: A particular key criterion for the effectiveness of a semiconductor is the bandgap energy of the material. The wider the bandgap of a material, the higher its electrical conductivity. GaN has a bandgap width of 3.4 eV as compared to silicon’s 1.12 eV, which makes it highly desirable for a wide range of electronics applications.
Energy Efficiency: Gallium Nitride-based devices are characterized by much-improved energy efficiency features. The loss of energy due to excessive heat is much less in GaN devices as they provide a good range of bandgap width, which means they can sustain much higher temperatures than silicon-based devices.
Power Density And Switching Frequency: With higher bandgap energy also comes more operational power to pump up the devices, thus adding another advantage to GaN devices. GaN devices also need far fewer materials for cooling purposes and hence the device keeps working for a longer period of time.
Having a higher switching frequency means GaN products need smaller parts and equipment, so smaller but more powerful devices can be achieved. They can also sustain higher levels of wireless power transmission.
Faster Speeds: With all the above advantages that GaN has over silicon-based products, it is now well understood that there will be no compromising on the processing power of the GaN-based ICs. This GaN-based IC will fetch greater performance at the blink-of-an-eye speeds.
Cost Efficiency: The cost of manufacturing GaN devices is much lower compared to the silicon-based solutions on the market. Also, because they require fewer peripheral components for cooling over their silicon counterparts, there are comparatively lower investments required for the production of GaN components with their extra advantages lasered on.
Applications Of GaN In Technology
Gallium Nitride products have been in use in the production of LEDs and RF equipment for a considerable amount of time, but in present times they have conquered a place in power switching and conversion applications. GaN-based IC chips are seen to have improved performance, cut down on energy loss, and operate effectively at elevated temperatures.
Chargers and adaptors frequently use GaN to fuel up gadgets and devices. As devices with hypercharge facilities are being launched in the market, GaN power ICs will see a great demand as they can charge up the device at thrice the speed of silicon-based adaptors. On top of that, they deploy this feature with a smaller, lighter-weight adaptor.
Even in the automotive industry, where electronic vehicles are on the rise, GaN-based products and batteries can provide desirable output. They can be implemented in inverters at solar power installations and other industrial applications.
GaN power semiconductors are finding utility in data center servers too. Gallium Nitride ICs, being more power efficient than the slow silicon chips, serve fantastically well in data traffic management. It is realized that a silicon to GaN data center upgrade would reduce worldwide energy loss by 30–40%, thus saving more than 120 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. This will be a distinctive achievement of the SDGs.
GaN Is Taking The World By Storm
Chinese teams are on the rise to produce GaN lasers the size of a micrometer, which can be used in microscopes to make more precise observations. So although it can be said that GaN is the silicon of the future, yet, will take some time before it replaces silicon completely. With startup industries exponentially capturing the market, newer and more capable solutions to facilitate future technologies like AI and its subsidiaries are on the rise, and the day is not far that GaN-based products will be used to their maximum potential.