Gallium Nitride (GaN) was discovered in 1875 by French scientist Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Research into GaN continued culminating with the growth of single-crystal films of GaN in 1960. However, it was not until 2010 when GaN products first became widely available for sale.
The properties of GaN have made it a leading candidate to replace SiC-based (silicon carbide) transistors, especially concerning power conversion. Compared to SiC, GaN-based devices can deliver increased energy efficiency, higher temperature operation, and produce less heat. ”The ability of a GaN to operate at a high switching frequency can reduce the size of energy storage components in the power circuit thereby scaling down the system form-factor (see Pushpakaran, Bejoy, et al, “Commercial GaN-Based Power Electronic Systems: A Review” in Journal of Electronic Materials, Vol. 49, No. 11, 2020, p.6260). These characteristics help contribute to GaN devices that require less space resulting in more compact devices and faster-charging cycles.
Most of the challenges associated with the early implementations of GaN devices, such as reliability, supplier diversity, and production capacity have been solved. However, the cost of GaN devices has become an oft-cited impediment when looking to understand the future of GaN as a replacement for SiC-based products. For example, in 2012 a 2” inch GaN substrate was priced at $1,900 (see Anzaldua, Antonio, “GaN Transistors for a Dollar? GaN Overcomes One Major Setback” All About Circuits, 16 August,, 2021”). Some of the pricing disadvantages of GaN are due to its lower volumes shipped, given GaN’s status as a challenger to the mature SiC technology. This disadvantage is rapidly declining as improvements in Chip-scale packaging technology will help reduce the price of low-voltage to GaN $1.00, making it less costly when compared to a similar SiC device. Also, many next-generation devices used in 5G and 6G networks do not have a SiC equivalent and will require GaN components to operate, driving production and demand and lowering costs.
In the smartphone market, the bill of materials dictates pricing, which is a significant driver for purchasing decisions in the mass market. At the same time, poor battery performance and long lengthy recharge cycles have been consistently cited as an area in need of significant improvement throughout the portable device market. The combination of power efficiency, size, and heat reduction coupled with pricing will help push GaN past SiC.
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