The primary objective of the project is to cut the losses that occur when feeding electricity into national electricity grid systems by as much as 50%. This ambitious project also hopes to achieve such a reduction without a significant escalation of system and operating costs.
The electronics technology that will help achieve these objectives will be based on semiconductor devices employing silicon-carbide (SiC) and gallium-nitride-on-silicon (GaN-on-Si) technology. Headed by Infineon, NEULAND will run until mid-2013 and receive approximately Euro 4.7 million from the BMBF.
SiC is already used in Schottky diodes, and it has significantly reduced losses in current and voltage conversion in switched-mode power supplies. Right now, GaN material is used mainly in white-light-emitting diodes.
NEULAND will try to identify the applications where GaN devices can match or surpass present SiC devices in terms of reliability, ease of use, and cost. This will pave the way for introducing the energy efficiency benefits of reduced losses throughout the consumer electronics spectrum.
The high crystalline quality inherent in GaN technology preceded the discovery of p-type GaN, p-n junction blue/UV-LEDs. This led to the commercialization of high-performance blue LEDs and high-brightness GaN LEDs, which completed the range of primary colours and made applications such as daylight-visible full-color LED displays, white LEDs, and blue laser devices possible.
The high breakdown voltages, high electron mobility, and saturation velocity of GaN also have made it an ideal candidate for high-power and high-temperature microwave applications. Potential markets for high-power/high-frequency devices based on GaN include microwave radio-frequency power amplifiers and high-voltage switching devices for power grids.
In terms of potential mass-market applications, GaN-based RF transistors could serve as the microwave source for microwave ovens, replacing the magnetrons currently used. The large band gap means that the performance of GaN transistors is maintained up to higher temperatures than silicon transistors.
The project consortium brings together specialists in both electronics and solar renewables, including Aixtron, an equipment provider for the semiconductor industry, and SiCrystal and Azzuro, which are wafer manufacturers. MicroGaN and Infineon will supply the semiconductor expertise. And, SMA Solar Technology will provide the experience in systems engineering for photovoltaic applications.
Aixtron’s technology is used to build advanced components for electronic and opto-electronic applications based on compound, silicon, or organic semiconductor materials and more recently carbon nanostructures. This company can grow very thick GaN of the highest quality on large-area silicon substrates (currently 150 mm), enabling cost breakthroughs for high-brightness LEDs and other GaN-based devices.
SiCrystal produces single crystalline silicon-carbide (SiC) wafers. The company also has expertise in numerical simulation, crystal growth, wafering, characterization, and quality control.
MicroGaN processes 4- and 6-in. GaN-on-silicon wafers, applying a proprietary extreme wafer-area efficient 3D-GaN technology. The resulting advantage for manufacturing is the fact that large wafer size including a progressive fabrication technology allows a market launch at competitive cost.
Finally, SMA Solar Technology is a specialist in photovoltaic inverters. Its product portfolio covers both inverters for photovoltaic plants connected to the grid as well as inverters for off-grid systems.