Like many people, I was amazed by the considerable contribution the short-selling of shares has made to the current international money meltdown and to the collapse of companies and banks. Why so stunned, you say?
Well, I find it simply incredible that the money men can take something they don’t own (in this case a company share), sell it to someone else in the hope that it loses value, and then buy it back at a cheaper price, therefore making a profit. Strange concept, making money by selling something you don’t own.
Fortunately, for a simple soul like me, I report on an industry where financial success has a clear and evidential link with technical innovation. And a technology currently hitting the headlines is gallium nitride (GaN), a semiconductor material that’s being hailed as the most significant material development in electronics since silicon.
It has characteristics such as higher breakdown voltages and more efficient electric-energy conversion capabilities than silicon. It also can operate in extreme conditions. Put these properties together and it’s not surprising that companies like International Rectifier (IR) have developed a range of new power devices based on GaN.
R&D work with gallium nitride has gone on for some time, with Japanese company NEC developing high-power GaN-based amplifiers for 3G basestations in 2006. Even further back in 2003, Japanese substrate and epiwafer manufacturer Hitachi Cable announced it would produce GaN substrates for blue laser diodes.
There’s absolutely no doubt that GaN is a terrific technology for power semiconductors. However, a note of caution about GaN was voiced a while ago by the eminent Professor Christopher Snowden, Vice Chancellor of the University of Surrey, England, who also specialises in semiconductor materials.
His point was that although GaN is technically impressive, was it commercially viable? This view was founded on the fact that GaN and GaAs non-silicon semiconductors do have superior electrical properties, but silicon substrates are still the most cost-effective for mass manufacture. This commercial question was answered recently by the Rensselaer Institute, which determined that GaN could be grown on silicon substrates.
Interesting, then, to go back to IR’s work with GaN. The company’s recently announced GaN power products, the result of five years research, are based on the its proprietary GaN-on-silicon epitaxial technology—with silicon being the key word here.
It’s plain to see that this is the right technology at the right time. It may be at the right price as well. One thing is certain. There will be no short-selling of this technological breakthrough.