A Revolution in Power Electronics with GaN and SiC

A Revolution in Power Electronics with GaN and SiC

By Francois Callewaert

Did you know that 10% of the electric energy is lost during the conversion from the grid to the electronic device? This explains for example why the adapter of your laptop gets so hot when you charge it. Worldwide, this energy loss is equivalent to the electricity produced by the 600 coal plants in the US. The topic hasn’t gained much attention so far because the power conversion technology did not evolve much in the past decades.

This is about to change with the emergence of Gallium nitride (GaN) and Silicon Carbide (SiC)-based power electronics in the next decade. You probably don’t know those semiconductors, but you know some of their recent applications that have changed the world, such as the Blu-Ray (GaN) and solar panel inverters (SiC). In particular, GaN has been quoted as “the most important semiconductor since silicon” as blue and white LEDs based on GaN are transforming radically the lighting industry.

In the near future, GaN and SiC are expected to have a growing number of applications in high power electronic devices, replacing Silicon progressively. First, they can carry much higher voltages (up to 900V for GaN, 1200V and more for SiC vs less than 200V for silicon), which allows the fabrication of very high power devices for electric vehicles or industrial motor drives. Second, they can operate at higher temperatures and thus require smaller or no cooling systems. Furthermore, the higher speed of electrons in these materials allows to decrease the losses from 10% to 1-2%, and to fabricate high frequency devices for the next generation of wireless communications (5G).

So why are GaN and SiC still so little widespread so far, with as little as 1% of the power electronics market? The reason, as often, is the cost which was much higher than silicon up to now. However, thanks to a combination of higher demand for high power devices (such as electric vehicles) and lower costs due to new growth techniques (e.g GaN on Silicon, GaN on SiC), the market of GaN and SiC is forecast to explode in the next decade, from $300m in 2014 to $3bn in 2022, and probably much more in the future.
It is believed that GaN can already save 10% of global electricity consumption for lighting. With the additional 10% that could be saved in power electronics, you can now imagine the tremendous impact of these new materials on our lives.

Document about the market forecasts for GaN and SiC

Click to access is1.4.2.pdf

Focus on Gallium Nitride applications
The quote about Gallium Nitride as the most important semiconductor after silicon

Lighting the future: The rising stock of Gallium nitrade

Photo courtesy of www.dollarphotoclub.com

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