GaN-Based Power Device Signals Next-Gen Power Conversion

Oct. 9, 2008
International Rectifier Corp. has successfully developed a GaN-based (gallium-nitride) power-device technology platform. It’s expected to provide improvements in two key application-specific figures of merit, on resistance and gate charge, of

International Rectifier Corp. has successfully developed a GaN-based (gallium-nitride) power-device technology platform. It’s expected to provide improvements in two key application-specific figures of merit, on resistance and gate charge, of up to a factor of 10 compared to state-of-the-art silicon-based technology platforms.

On resistance relates to how much current you can process in a unit area. It also can be related to the cost per amp of processing the power. Gate charge, which is the on resistance multiplied by the charge being switched, deals with how well a device can be used in switching applications, like switch-mode power supplies.

GAN TALK AT DARNELL’S DIGITAL POWER FORUM I found out more about this announcement at the recent Darnell Digital Power Forum held in San Francisco. Michael Briere, an executive scientific consultant exclusively with IR, gave a talk on GaN-based power devices during the event. I also got a chance to listen in as Analog/Power Editor Don Tuite interviewed him.

Briere says that even at the introduction of this platform, GaN represents a significant improvement over state-of-theart silicon, which has been developed over 30 years. By the way, the GaN-based power-device technology platform is the result of five years of research and development by IR based on the company’s proprietary GaN-on-silicon epitaxial technology.

“It’s clear that in the next five years, you can expect an order of magnitude improvement in that figure of merit, down to something on the order of 3 m-nanocoulombs,” said Briere. This breakthrough is expected to dramatically increase performance and cut energy consumption in end applications in a variety of market segments such as computing and communications, automotive, and appliances.

Briere says that GaN is also more cost-effective than other compound semiconductor technologies, such as silicon carbide. The combination of cost effectiveness and the functional figures of merit will mean that this technology will allow quite radical improvements in power electronics, which in the end will save both space and energy.

I was particularly impressed with a slide from Briere’s presentation that showed a graph of figure of merit over time. The graph starts before 1978 with silicon and notes the different introductions of devices such as IR’s HEXFET, the trendFET, the super-junction MOSFET, and next-generation silicon. The amazing part of the graph is how GaN seems to pick up where silicon leaves off.

According to IR, prototypes of several new GaN-based product platforms will be available to its leading OEM customers at Electronica, scheduled for Nov. 11-14 in Munich. Also, you can watch Don’s interview with Briere.

FROST & SULLIVAN’S INNOVATION OF THE YEAR During my trip to San Francisco, I also attended Frost & Sullivan’s 4th Annual Growth, Innovation and Leadership conference. One of its highlights was the awards banquet, where the 2008 Frost & Sullivan North American Technology Innovation of the Year award went to Innolume for its innovative laser technology.

“Innolume’s unique laser technology is based on quantum dots (QDs), which provide a wide operational spectrum covering 1064 nm to 1310 nm as well as broad optical gain,” said Avinash Bhaskar, research analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “The company’s technological innovation promises inexpensive yet highly efficient light sources for emerging applications, including silicon photonics for optical interconnect systems and lasers for niche medical applications such as optical coherence tomography (OCT).”

Innolume develops laser semiconductor chips and modules at the specific wavelength range of 1064 to 1310 nm for the medical, industrial, communications, and computer markets. Its quantum dot technology and proprietary design concepts enable improvements in cost, performance, and quality of compound semiconductor devices used in optoelectronics.

ANSOFT INSPIRING ENGINEERS During a recent visit with the folks at Ansoft, product marketing manager Mark Ravenstahl told me about Inspiring Engineering, Ansoft’s 2008 application workshops. These events focus on discussions of how applications of advanced electromagnetic and circuit simulation solve some of today’s most challenging design problems. More information is available at

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