GaN Switching Frequency: Using Gallium Nitride Technology in Next-Generation High-Frequency Circuits
May 10, 2023
Gallium nitride (GaN) is a very hard, mechanically stable wide bandgap semiconductor that is used in the production of power devices as well as RF components and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). GaN switching frequency is substantially higher than silicon, enabling power electronics designers to create smaller, more efficient, and higher-performing systems that were previously challenging to achieve with silicon technologies.
How GaN Switching Frequency Compares to Silicon Switching Frequency
GaN devices can operate at higher frequencies than silicon due to their superior material properties such as high carrier mobility, low on-resistance, and low parasitic capacitance. These properties allow GaN devices to switch up to 100 x faster and more efficiently than silicon devices.
Silicon devices are typically limited to switching frequencies of up to a few hundred kilohertz, while GaN devices can operate at switching frequencies of several megahertz or even tens of megahertz.
The high switching frequency of GaN devices is particularly advantageous in applications such as power electronics and audio amplifiers. In power electronics, high switching frequencies can reduce the size and weight of the components used in the circuit, while also improving efficiency. In audio amplifiers, high switching frequencies can reduce distortion and noise, resulting in higher audio quality.
The Benefits of GaN for High-Frequency Circuit Applications
GaN's increased switching frequency is especially useful for high-frequency applications that require high efficiency and high performance. GaN's fast switching speed can reduce switching losses, resulting in increased efficiency and reduced heat generation. The higher frequency can also enable smaller and lighter passive components, such as capacitors and inductors, which can lead to more compact and higher power density designs.
Some of the applications where GaN's increased switching frequency provides significant advantages over silicon devices include:
Power electronics: In power electronics applications, such as DC-DC converters, AC-DC converters, and wireless power, the high switching frequencies of GaN can help reduce the size and weight of the components used in the circuit while also improving efficiency.
Motor drives: In motor drive applications, such as those used for robotics, drones, automotive, and industrial machinery, high switching frequencies enable higher power density, increased efficiency, higher performance, and reduced EMI. These benefits can make GaN-based motor drive systems more compact, reliable, and cost-effective than silicon-based systems.
Time-of-flight/Lidar: In lidar applications such as those used for autonomous vehicles, drones, and robotics, the high switching frequencies of GaN improve resolution, increase range, enable faster scanning, and reduce size and weight of the system.
Audio amplifiers: In audio applications, GaN's high switching frequency can help reduce distortion and noise, resulting in higher audio quality. This makes GaN particularly well-suited for Class-D audio amplifiers, which are known for their efficiency and ability to produce high-quality audio.
LED lighting: GaN's high switching frequency can also be used in LED lighting applications, where it can help reduce the size and weight of the power supply while improving efficiency.
Using GaN Switching Frequency to Overcome Design Challenges
The high switching frequency of GaN can be used to overcome several design challenges. Here are a few examples:
- Smaller Size: One of the primary challenges in power electronics design is size constraints. Using GaN's high switching frequency, designers can reduce the size of passive components such as inductors and capacitors. This can result in smaller and more compact designs, which are especially useful in applications with space and weight constraints like electric vehicles, satellites, consumer electronics, and motor drives for eMobility, robotics, and drones.
- Higher Efficiency: High switching frequencies allow for reduced switching losses in power electronics systems, which results in higher efficiency. This can lead to longer battery life in portable devices and lower energy consumption in fixed systems. In applications like data centers, where energy costs can be significant, the use of GaN-based power electronics can lead to substantial energy savings.
- Better Thermal Management: GaN's high switching frequency allows for faster switching, which reduces the time that the device spends in the high-current state. This results in less heat generation, which can make it easier to manage thermal performance. Additionally, GaN's high efficiency can reduce the amount of heat that needs to be dissipated in the first place, further simplifying thermal management.
- Reduced EMI: High-frequency switching can produce significant electromagnetic interference (EMI), which can be challenging to manage in power electronics systems. However, GaN's fast switching capability allows for lower EMI levels due to reduced voltage and current overshoot. This can make it easier to meet regulatory requirements for EMI.
For more information or to start your GaN-based high-frequency design, contact EPC.