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A Path to a Sustainable Future with GaN Power ICs

A Path to a Sustainable Future with GaN Power ICs

Jan 28, 2023

Sustainable energy is a crucial need in today’s world. Developing economies struggle to build energy infrastructure to support industry and bring power to remote villages. At the same time, industrialized economies are straining to balance conflicting demands for more power while decreasing the environmental impact. Gallium nitride (GaN) ICs offer designers power devices that increase power density, improve efficiency and enable new applications. With the rising cost of energy globally, it is no surprise that the adoption rate of GaN devices is accelerating dramatically.

Why GaN?

Gallium Nitride is a wide-bandgap material, meaning that GaN can support a much higher electric field intensity than silicon. For a given voltage, terminations of a GaN structure can be much closer together. This means a GaN electron delivers more than 1000 times more efficiently than silicon and must travel only a tenth of the distance of a silicon electron to do its intended job. As a result, a circuit using GaN power ICs can provide a much higher efficiency over silicon in a far smaller area. GaN efficiency also translates to better thermal management (heat = waste: less waste = less heat) of a power design. Learn more about GaN below.

Why Sustainable Energy Matters

It is essential to understand that 85% of energy comes from burning fossil fuels[1]. Fossil fuels are consumed in the form of petrol for transportation, but also in the form of oil for lubricants for plastics, coal, sometimes for heating, and sometimes for steel production. With a finite supply of fossil fuels and the increased realization of the environmental impact of their use, it becomes critical to not just employ alternative energy sources like wind and solar but to find ways to make more efficient use of energy.

A More Sustainable Future with GaN Power ICs

GaN Power ICs are more sustainable than silicon

There are multiple costs associated with energy, including the cost of generation, distribution, storage, conversion, consumption, and cleanup. Each of these costs varies with the type of energy and how it is used. GaN power ICs can have an impact on several of these elements of cost. 

The higher speed, lower production cost, smaller size, and lower resistances contribute to better electricity utilization and changing topologies that can result in huge savings. Customers have demonstrated that by using GaN, they can save about 30% of the energy used by power supplies, about 20% of the energy produced by more efficient solar panels, and about 10% of the energy used by the billions of motors used for your refrigerator, air conditioner, electric trains, and industrial automation. These three applications could save approximately 8% of total electricity usage annually.

Transportation is the most obvious opportunity to convert a high-volume application from a dependence on fossil fuels to electricity. 26.6% of global energy consumption is from transportation.[2] Transport consumes 26,750 TWh annually, 70% of which are road vehicles, and less than 1% of these road vehicles are electric.[3]

Battery electric vehicles utilize about one-third as much energy as internal combustion engines. If all automobiles were converted to electric, about 12,000 TWh per year would be saved. Additionally, the benefit of GaN over silicon in these systems is about 10% to 15%, representing annual energy savings from 100 to 1,800 TWh.

Sustainability of GaN versus Silicon

GaN FETs are more reliable than silicon

GaN provides an opportunity to impact sustainability goals compared to the incumbent silicon technology substantially. First, the manufacturing process is more straightforward, less energy intensive, and less costly compared to silicon.

GaN, the key element in the epitaxial process, is a by-product of aluminum production, which is a widely used available mineral. Wafer processing is done in existing silicon facilities but with fewer process steps utilizing less fab energy compared to silicon production. Also, GaN devices are significantly smaller than their silicon counterparts for the same voltage and on-resistance, resulting in more yielded die for the same size wafer.

The faster-switching speeds and improved performance of GaN FETs and ICs allow system designers to improve power density for smaller, lighter solutions with lower energy consumption than silicon-based designs. Higher frequency operation allows for the use of fewer and smaller passive components. Additionally, the improved thermal performance of GaN solutions can eliminate the need for heatsinks and other heavy energy-intensive mechanical components.

These benefits result in an increasing variety of markets adopting GaN to improve efficiency and enable new applications.

Ready for GaN Power ICs? Take the Next Step

GaN-based solutions provide an opportunity to impact sustainability significantly; they are less costly to manufacture, enable higher efficiency solutions that are smaller and lighter, and reduce overall system component usage and cost. Competitive superiority is a critical success factor in the fast-paced world of power electronics. Taking advantage of new semiconductor solutions and emerging materials such as GaN offers design engineers a powerful way to differentiate their designs and leapfrog their competition. GaN designs allow engineers to provide rich features, compelling circuit performance, and solutions that impact energy efficiency and sustainability, changing our world in a measurable and meaningful way. 

Learn more about how GaN technology can provide a path to a sustainable future or speak directly with a GaN Expert.