Power Electronics

Semiconductor Vendor Heralds GaN-based Device Technology

Yesterday, International Rectifier (www.irf.com) announced the development of a gallium nitride (GaN)-based power device technology platform that promises major improvements in performance over that of conventional silicon-based devices. According to the company, the coming GaN devices will offer application-specific figures-of-merit (FOM) that are up to an order of magnitude better than existing devices. In so doing, the new components are expected to dramatically increase performance and cut energy consumption in end applications.

Some of the target markets for the GaN devices include computing and communications, automotive, and appliances. Within these market segments, the technology is expected to target numerous applications such as ac-dc power converters, dc-dc power converters, motor drives, lighting systems, and class D audio amplifiers.

The description of the GaN technology as a platform reflects the idea that the company will make GaN technology an option across all the application segments that the company currently addresses. However, not all products will necessarily be offered in GaN versions—the goal will be to apply it where “appropriate and viable” (i.e. where the performance is needed and where the customer is willing to pay some premium for the better performance.)

The company also notes that the new GaN products are not viewed as replacements for existing silicon devices but rather new functional blocks that take advantage of GaN’s performance advantages over silicon. For example, GaN allows operation at high switching frequencies, while still maintaining high efficiency. Similarly, devices fabricated in GaN can operate at higher junction temperatures. Then there’s the fact that GaN devices are inherently bidirectional. In time, these characteristics could enable new applications and circuit architectures for the GaN products.

The GaN technology is considered particularly well suited to the company’s discrete devices (MOSFETs and IGBTs) as well as the modular components like the iPowIR products. But beyond these products, GaN technology will likely be applied to other products on a case-by-case basis. Note that the company does not offer Schottky diodes, which have traditionally been the power components where compound semiconductor technology has been applied.

This technology is the result of five years of research and development by IR based on the company’s proprietary GaN-on-silicon epitaxial technology. The manufacturing process for the new devices begins with 6-in. (150-mm) silicon wafers being processed in a GaN reactor where an epitaxial layer is put down on the silicon. After this step, the wafers are sent through the company’s standard wafer fab where conventional etching processes are carried out using photolithography.

According to IR, the complete process will offer the high throughput required to make GaN technology commercially viable. The processes used to produce the GaN wafers are described as fully compatible with IR’s silicon manufacturing facilities.

“This leading-edge GaN-based technology platform and IP portfolio extends IR’s leadership in power semiconductor devices and heralds a new era for power conversion, in line with our core mission to help our customers save energy,” says IR’s president and chief executive officer, Oleg Khaykin. “We fully anticipate the potential impact of this new device technology platform on the power conversion market to be at least as large as the introduction of the power HEXFET by IR some 30 years ago.”

International Rectifier will introduce the new GaN-based power device technology platform at a number of key industry events over the next two weeks including the Digital Power Forum ‘08 in San Francisco, September 15-17, 2008, the Embedded Power Conference 2008, September 17-18, 2008, San Jose and the International Workshop on Power Supply on A Chip taking place on September 22-24, 2008 in Cork, Ireland. These presentations will include technology roadmaps for the GaN devices.

Then two months hence, the company will provide concrete evidence of their developments when they unveil several GaN device prototypes to OEM customers at Electronica. That tradeshow will take place in Munich, November 11-14, 2008. The company expects to make its first GaN product introductions by the end of 2009.

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