How Gallium Nitride Could Power Our Future
As the world faces a global semiconductor shortage, could gallium nitride (GaN) power the next revolution in electronics?
Almost every electronic device we use--from laptops and mobile phones to TVs and gaming consoles--uses a silicon chip. High demand, a complex production process, plus the perfect storm of extreme weather conditions and supply chains disrupted by COVID-19 have created a global chip shortage. Could gallium nitride (GaN) be a more efficient and sustainable alternative to silicon? Read on to find out what gallium nitride is and how it could power our future.
Gallium nitride 101
Gallium nitride is a compound made by combining the elements gallium and nitrogen in a heated environment. Gallium nitride has a hard, wurtzite crystal structure.
In the early 1990s, three Japanese inventors--Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura--used gallium nitride to create a highly energy-efficient and environment-friendly light source. The blue light-emitting diode (LED) revolutionized lighting in the 21st century, paving the way for white light that is robust, stable, energy-efficient, and long-lasting.
Today, LEDs in Blu-Ray technology, indoor lighting, and flat panel displays are based on gallium nitride. Akasaki, Amano, and Nakamura received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for their groundbreaking work. Could gallium nitride also revolutionize the power electronics industry?
Gallium nitride vs. silicon
The first silicon transistor was produced in 1954 at Texas Instruments. As the second most abundant element on the Earth’s crust, silicon is an affordable and plentiful resource. Its use in electronics has led to a USD 500 billion chip industry that fuels a global tech economy worth USD 3 trillion.
However, we are “reaching a theoretical limit on how much it can be improved,” says Danqing Wang, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University. Silicon led to smaller, faster microchips. Today, many are heralding gallium nitride as a potential successor that could boost power delivery, wireless communication, and even space applications.
How does gallium nitride stack up against silicon?
The potential to power our future
The properties of gallium nitride make it well-suited to power electronics. Because of its high speed, high efficiency, and high-temperature resistance, gallium nitride could enable the production of electronic devices that are faster, more compact, durable, and efficient.
According to Yole Développement, a market research and strategy consulting company, the GaN power market could reach USD 1.1 billion by 2026.
Yole sees the GaN consumer power supply market as the main driver of growth, with the market forecast to grow from USD 29 million in 2020 to 672 USD million in 2026.
While improving operational performance and efficiency, gallium nitride could also lead to a cleaner, greener planet. “GaN design and integration has been shown to deliver next-generation power semiconductors with a carbon footprint ten times lower than older, slower silicon chips,” says Stephen Oliver, VP Corporate Marketing and Investor Relations at Navitas Semiconductor. According to the company, a GaN chip can save 80% in manufacturing and 50% savings in packaging.
As the needs of society demand faster, better, and more powerful technology, gallium nitride could be the solution that enables efficiency and sustainability in a high-tech world.
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