Gallium Nitride (GaN) Technology

Gallium Nitride (GaN) Technology

Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology is an emerging trend, which brings a lot of high hopes for the future of the consumer electronics market. As it becomes more affordable, an ever-increasing number of companies are starting to integrate GaN technology in their products, as it proves to be superior over the current silicon-based solutions. In this article, we want to give an overview of this new technology and see what we can expect from it in the near future.

What is Gallium Nitride (GaN)?

Gallium Nitride (GaN) is a semiconductor compound that is commonly used in Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and high-powered transistors that operate at high temperatures. The material can also be used in the production of semiconductor power devices, lasers, photonics, and radiofrequency (RF) components. It will also be integrated into sensor technology in the future. GaN is capable of displacing silicon semiconductors in power conversion RF and many analog applications.

GaN is an extremely hard binary III/V material that contains a Wurtzite crystal structure. The mechanically reliable wide bandgap compound contains high heat capacity and thermal conductivity. When it’s in its purest form,  it can resist cracks and can be placed in a thin film on sapphire or silicon carbide, regardless of their lattice constants mismatch. GaN can also be doped with two types of elements, silicon or oxygen to n-type and with magnesium to p-type, but both silicon and magnesium atoms alter how GaN crystals grow. The compounds have the tendency to have a high dislocation density. GaN’s wide bandgap behavior is associated with certain changes in the electronic band structure, chemical bond regions, and charge occupation.

Applications of GaN technology

What are some benefits of GaN technology?

Some of the benefits in the GaN compound that can be used in devices generally include:

  1. Lower energy costs: Less energy is expended as heat, which results in materials that are less costly and systems that can be scaled down in size. This is mainly due to the fact that GaN semiconductors are more efficient than silicon.
  2. Power density is higher: Higher switching frequencies than silicon in addition to operational temperatures contribute to smaller heat sinks, lower cooling requirements, liquid-cooling to air cooling conversion, elimination of fans and a cut back on magnetics.
  3. Less costly system: Even though GaN semiconductors are more expensive than silicon, the cost reduction is a result of smaller size/costs of other components such as filters, cooling, passive inductive and capacitive circuit elements.
  4. Higher switching frequencies: Since GaN devices have higher switching frequencies, smaller inductors and capacitors can be used in power circuits. Both the inductance and capacitance are scaled down to match the frequency, where a 10x frequency increase produces a 10x decrease in the capacitance and inductance. As a result, the weight, cost, and volume are all significantly decreased. High frequency also has the potential to create less noise in motor drive applications.

How does GaN compare with silicone-based technology?

GaN’s 3.4 eV wide-bandgap far surpasses silicon’s 1.1 eV bandgap, which allows it to hold higher voltages and endure higher temperatures than silicon and the current’s speed is much faster when running through the device. This wider bandgap makes it very applicable for optoelectronics, where it can produce high power and high-frequency devices like UV LEDs. It doesn’t just stop there. GaN also has 1,000 times the electron mobility than silicon and they can also operate at much higher temperatures (up to 400 degrees Celsius) while still keeping their components intact.

This makes GaN semiconductors a lot more efficient than silicon with less energy loss. Since they tend to lose less energy, it enables charging devices to be scaled down. Replacing any electronic components with GaN can also contribute to a reduction in power use by 10% to 25%.

Since GaN can endure exposure to higher temperatures than silicon, it influences greater design in more complex environments. For example, electronics in a vehicle are mounted in a safer area, away from the engine to prevent them from overheating. By using GaN, the constraint would be eliminated, which could potentially alter how vehicles are built in the future.

What types of products can use GaN technology?

There are many products that could benefit from using GaN. Since it has low sensitivity to ionizing radiation, it’s very suitable for solar cell arrays in satellites. It also has stability in radiation environments, which could be beneficial in other space applications.

Currently, many devices containing GaN are in large production from many manufacturers. These devices are used in power supplies and motor controls for commercial, industrial, and automotive applications.

GaN transistors are gaining popularity in radio applications due to their high-frequency characteristics. They’re currently being used in speed cameras, air traffic control, and military applications which need frequencies in the range of 9.2-10GHz at 10kW of power. Due to its capability to operate at high temperatures, it can be used in power amplifiers while offering great characteristics for THz devices.

The material is commonly used in lasers and photonics. It also gives off blue light in Blu-ray players and can read Blu-ray discs. Currently,  there are ongoing plans to develop a GaN laser that can be used in microscopes for more precise research.

What are some of the challenges of GaN technology?

One of the main obstacles GaN will need to overcome is the depletion in GaN transistors.  The drawback is that, unlike LEDs, transistors don’t have a channel of input and output. Instead, they only have two sources of input. This can be problematic for power and logic circuits that need transistors of both input and output.

Even though output GaN transistors can be produced, they’re dependent on either a silicon MOSFET or additional special layers that can be quite difficult to down-size. This makes it inoperable for CPU and microcontroller use due to its inability to be scaled down to the same size as silicon transistors.

GaN is also more expensive to produce than silicon, so it will be a long time before manufacturers start using it in their devices.

GaN technology in daily life products

GaN technology is slowly but surely making its way into consumer electronics, helping them be more performant, faster and lighter. Here’s one example of a wall charger that successfully uses Gallium nitride.

The Anker PowerPort Atom III GaN wall charger

Poweradd Slim 2 5000mAh Ultra-compact Portable Power Bank External Battery Pack

  • 60 Watt output
  • USB-C port features Power IQ 3.0 and Power Delivery (45 Watts)
  • USB-A port features Power IQ 2.0 (15 Watts)
  • Simultaneous charging
  • Compatible with any device
  • High-speed charging for laptops, mobile devices and more
  • 18-month manufacturer’s warranty

Last update on 2020-09-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Read our full review of Anker PowerPort Atom III here

Anker’s PowerPort Atom III 60W Fast Charger is compatible with literally any device available on the market, including Apple, Samsung smartphones and USB-C laptops and more. The portable charger is built with fast charging technology that enables you to charge your devices 2.5x faster. Devices must be compatible with fast charging in order for it to work.

The charger’s circuits are made of top-notch components, including gallium nitride (GaN), which allows the creation of a smaller sized (15%) device without losing power.  USB-C port charges devices, like laptops at a rating of 5V ⎓ 2.4A / 9V ⎓ 3A / 15V ⎓ 3A / 20V ⎓ 2.25A. Meanwhile, the USB-A port charges smartphones at 5V ⎓ 2.4A / 9V ⎓ 1.66A / 12V ⎓ 1.25A.