International Rectifier's (IR) mission is saving energy. By improving the efficiency of electricity end uses, including heating and lighting, and the expanded use of electric technologies such as hybrid electric vehicles, worldwide energy consumption could be cut by 30%. However, although IR's power-management and power-conversion technologies and solutions play a critical role, the real power savings are in its customers' designs.
While the challenge to make more efficient computers, appliances and cars lies with the Intel, Electrolux and Toyotas of this world, what IR brings to the customer is an understanding of the end application and the right solution to meet the design challenge.
Many years ago, one of the most important applications demanding attention was the computer. The engineering vision was to make it small enough to fit on a desktop to create a “personal computer.” However, the chief design challenge rested with replacing the big and bulky linear power supply with a new and improved switched-mode power supply (SMPS). An innovative power device from IR, the HEXFET power MOSFET enabled high-speed switching at the high voltages and currents required for the conversion process. Without the energy-efficiency gains provided by the SMPS, adoption of PCs would have been slower and the cost higher.
Like the power MOSFET some 30 years ago, the introduction of IR's GaN-based power device technology platform heralds a new era for efficient power design. Combined with device structures that yield excellent conductivity, this provides such devices with a far superior tradeoff between operating voltage and on-resistance resulting in much smaller devices for the same application. GaN-based devices are also capable of operating efficiently at much higher frequencies than comparable silicon-based devices. This allows the reduction in size of power-conversion solutions, a key enabling feature in today's power-hungry end application markets. In addition, very efficient lateral devices are possible using GaN- based technology that allows relatively simple scaling with operating voltage, as well as for improved integration with other circuit functions, compared to state-of-the-art vertical silicon-based power devices.
This GaN-based power device technology platform will provide improvements in key application-specific factors of merit (FOM) of up to a factor of 10 compared to state-of-the-art silicon-based technology platforms. GaN-based power devices will eventually be used in most of the same applications as current silicon-based power devices in ac-dc converters, dc-dc converters, motor drives and lighting systems, as well as potentially new applications currently not possible with silicon devices.
The advent of GaN on silicon epitaxial technology, together with the ability to develop a process that is compatible with IR's silicon manufacturing facilities, allows IR to take advantage of this historic opportunity to offer its customers commercially viable products using GaN-based power devices.
Early adopters will be those market segments and applications that take full advantage of the revolutionary capability of transforming the value realization of the key features of power density, power-conversion efficiency and cost — all leading to power-efficient designs that deliver real energy savings.