Santa Clara, CA. Gallium nitride (GaN) will crush silicon—at least in power conversion applications, according to Alex Lidow Ph.D., CEO and cofounder of Efficient Power Conversion Corp. (EPC). Delivering the Thursday keynote address at DesignCon 2015, he said that for the first time in 60 years we have a technology that can outperform silicon at a lower cost.
He described GaN as a relatively young material that came on the scene only 15 years ago—with active devices in production for five years. GaN devices already offer lower costs than power MOSFETs in numerous applications, he said, and his company is moving fast on the cost curve.
He asked, “What do people want?” Answering his own question, he cited lower on-resistance and hence lower losses, smaller sizes (allowing compact circuit assemblies) and lighter weights, faster switching times (allowing higher efficiencies), lower thermal impedances (in turn enabling higher power densities), and lower costs.
“I’ve been working in this industry for 37 years,” he said, including 12 as CEO of International Rectifier. “Silicon can no longer compete.”
Lidow cited a key advantage: GaN devices don’t need packages (GaN device electrodes are on one surface), whereas MOSFETs do. Packages add not only cost and size, but also increased inductance and the limitations that entails. A device can’t outperform the capabilities of its package, he said, and even advanced packages like LFPAK and DirectFET impose fundamental limits on device performance. (He added that EPC looked to the package-free implementation initially because packaging companies seemed uninterested in dealing with a small company.)
“We are seeing the ability to do amazing things in a tiny space,” he said. “Remarkable miniaturization is possible.”
He cited several specific applications: wireless power, LIDAR, envelope tracking for 4G LTE base stations, satellite systems, class D audio, MRI, network and server power supplies, AC adapters, and robotics. He noted that efficient wireless power systems have medical applications for driving heart pumps and scintillators, for example. And wireless techniques also offer benefits in military applications for powering electronic devices that soldiers carry. And envelope tracking, he said, is important because of the high peak-to-valley ratios found in 3G and 4G systems, which could otherwise result in a lot of energy being burned in power amplifiers. With 5G, he said, the problem is going to be much worse.
Lidow said the technology is moving fast, with performance doubling every year. And there is much headroom. He concluded, “Our capabilities 1000 X away from the fundamental limits of GaN.”
Visit EPC for more.