On Wednesday, the German semiconductor company, Infineon, and U.S. semi maker International Rectifier (IR) announced that Infineon would be acquiring IR in a deal estimated to be worth $3 billion. Both companies have been leaders in the power semiconductor market for decades, IR since it’s founding 1947, and Infineon, from its postwar roots in Siemens. (It was spun off as a separate entity in 1999.)
What Infineon acquires from the deal, along with IR’s extensive product lines of conventional power semiconductor devices is IR’s research and experience with Gallium Nitride power semiconductors. IR has yet to produce a long-term viable GaN product (the IP2010 and 2011 data sheets are now tagged, “obsolete”), but in breaking new ground knowing what doesn’t work is as valuable as knowing what does.
Indicative of Infineon’s interest in GaN, just last June, Infineon announced the results of its leadership in a European research project called “NeuLand,” a project was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The project focused on silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride on silicon (GaN-on-Si). Infineon had already begun to use Sic in 600 to 1700-V JFETs and diodes.
That release also noted that “ . . . the the cost of SiC components will have to drop even more for the wide-scale application in solar inverters and that for GaN-based components further intensive research is required on reliability, service lifetime and costs.
The two U.S. companies that are presently shipping GaN and Silicon Carbide power transistors are Efficient Power Conversion (EPC), founded by ex-International Rectifier CEO Alex Lidow, and Transphorm, who consults with industry veteran Carl Blake. When asked to comment on the deal, Blake said, “I believe this will be very good for both the customers and stockholders because there will be some duplication that can be eliminated but also better utilization of the fabs at Infineon. One of the problems with 12-inch fabs is that you need very high volume of the common products to capture the cost saving. This combination should enable a great deal of cost savings combined with the high technology for which both companies are known.”
Lidow commented, "We are gratified to see that Infineon recognizes the excellent technology developed by International Rectifier. Especially significant is International Rectifier's excellent GaN technology. GaN-on-silicon transistors are in the process of replacing silicon-based power MOSFETs and iGBTs, and Infineon, through this acquisition, is showing their recognition of this major technology shift."