Gallium Nitride Poised to Replace Silicon in Electronics

Published Date : Jan 25, 2016

It is a well-known fact that power semiconductor devices form the core of almost all commonly used electronic products and the electricity distribution infrastructure. Electronic devices rely on them for controlling or converting electrical energy. As technology advances, highly complex products are being introduced in the market that are pushing incumbent technologies to severe performance. In this scenario, owing to several material limitations of the currently most preferred semiconductor – silicon – a great deal of attention is being given to materials with high efficiency and physical properties than silicon.

Silicon is still the most preferred semiconductor in the field of electronics as it has proved to be much more reliable and easier to use than other semiconductors such as germanium and selenium. However, with silicon transistors, some part of energy consumed in an electronic circuit is wasted in the form of heat.

As a replacement to silicon, gallium nitride (GaN) is being intensely researched in the past few years. The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) invested nearly half of the US$140 mn funds given to a research institute for power electronics to the research of GaN.

GaN has many desirable properties such as the high current density, dielectric strength, speed switching, operating temperature, and low on-resistance as compared to silicon. Electronics based on GaN are expected to lead to significant reduction in the amount of power consumed. Many companies are increasingly venturing in the field of GaN-based electronics and the market for these products is expected to propel significantly over the near future.

Cambridge Electronics Inc., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spinout company has recently released a line of GaN-based power electronics circuits and transistors, which are expected to cut-down on the amount of energy consumed by electronic products across the globe by as much as 10-20% by 2025. A major restraint in the larger adoption of GaN is still the high cost. But as production capabilities improve and advanced GaN circuits and transistors are developed at the cost of silicon, the adoption of such energy-efficient devices will significantly rise in the future.