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Panasonic to Make Gate Drivers for Gallium Nitride

Nov. 9, 2016
Panasonic announced Monday that it would start manufacturing circuits that switch power transistors made out of gallium nitride.
(Image courtesy of Panasonic).

Panasonic announced Monday that it would start manufacturing circuits that switch power transistors made out of gallium nitride, a material that has gained ground on traditional silicon in power electronics.

The new gate driver, AN34092B, opens and closes transistors at extremely high speeds, while simultaneously limiting heat that could permanently damage the chip. The faster switching speeds also makes it harder for electrical current to leak out of the circuits, which lowers efficiency.

The Japanese chipmaker said that it tuned the gate driver specifically for its gallium nitride transistors, which are called X-GaN and can be seen this week at the Electronica trade show in Munich, Germany. X-GaN technology, which is rated to 600 volts, provides higher heat tolerance and better efficiency than regular silicon chips, the company said.

Gallium nitride is one of a number of wide-bandgap semiconductors, which have better electrical properties than silicon when converting or moving power through things like solar inverters and data centers. Panasonic’s transistors have also been used inside an exoskeleton that helps people carry heavy objects.

There has been much chatter about gallium nitride and other materials like silicon carbide taking over the power electronics industry. But sales have not increased as quickly as industry analysts and business executives predicted. The devices still suffer from the high cost of packaging and connecting them to traditional parts made out of silicon.

Panasonic said that it built the gate drivers from scratch in order to exploit the unique structure of GaN transistors. The company said that it made advances that protect transistors from unintended voltage spikes, which are not uncommon in power-hungry devices like factory equipment and electric cars.

The company also said that it would start mass producing two types of transistors – the PGA26E07BA and PGA26E19BA – which can be paired with the gate drivers. The company makes the devices at a factory in Uozu, Japan.

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