The wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors present a huge potential to meet the performance demands of the modern equipment and devices. Gallium Nitride (GaN) is one such ground-breaking wide bandgap material in the semiconductor industry that has gained traction in the recent years. Its market is expected to grow at a noteworthy rate of 21.90% between 2019 and 2029, as per the analysis of BIS Research.
A major application of GaN is wireless infrastructure supported by 5G roll-out in different nations of the world, such as the U.S., China, South Korea, U.K., and Germany, among others. GaN material is also being used in on-board chargers of the electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs). It has also been well deployed in the production of the transistor modules used in automotive inverters. GaN has the potential to take these applications to the next level and here is our analysts’ take on the same.
Why is GaN a Promising Material for 5G and EV Applications?
GaN finds a plethora of applications owing to its much sought-after properties. The critical properties of GaN that propel its adoption in the communication and automotive industries are reliability, compact size, fast switching speed, and usability in a wide temperature range, among others. The GaN material overshadows the performance of Silicon (Si) materials driven by factors such as reduction in energy losses, ability to deal with high voltage operations, high operating frequency, and high-power density. In contrast to the limitations of silicon-based devices, GaN is lighter, smaller, and highly efficient, has lower cost, and can be conveniently packaged.
Catering to the growing demand for this wide bandgap material, government bodies are also coming up with research initiatives and studies to streamline the strategies to be incorporated with respect to the numerous applications of GaN. For instance, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) started a new project called “Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy” (ARPA-E) in 2009 for initiating innovations combining GaN technology and usage of WBG semiconductors to their full potential.
However, the application of GaN intou 5G infrastructre and EVs is currently at a nascent stage. Let’s see how this material promises the dawn of an era of advanced wireless communication and electric vehicles.
GaN Enabling 5G Technology in Cellular Network Infrastructure
A cellular network is a wireless communication network distributed over geographical areas or cells. Each cell contains Radio Frequency (RF) devices, which are electronic devices which transmit and/or receive signals at radio frequencies. With the increasing need for an upgraded radio communication infrastructure, the fifth generation of cellular networks is an innovation to watch out for in the coming years.
The rising demand for RF devices is one of the primary growth factors for the GaN market since these devices require a high-temperature range material that has a high voltage and current density to deliver higher RF power, for which GaN is best suited. The most widely adopted type of substrate for RF applications is GaN-on-Silicon Carbide (SiC).
The base trans receiver stations for 5G applications are one of the fastest growing RF applications of GaN. 5G technology in cellular networks would enable faster speeds of data communication, low latency, uninterrupted connectivity and operation at high bandwidth with high system spectral efficiency. These requirements could be well satisfied by the chips manufactured out of GaN material.
Countries and their companies offering GaN-based products and organizations are actively investing to establish GaN-based cellular network base stations driven by 5G technology.
GaN Technology Could Drive EVs From the Budding Stage to Ubiquity
In the past five years, EVs have attracted tremendous interest from consumers and manufacturers. GaN with its attractive technology for power electronics, increasingly being used in electric and hybrid vehicles, has the capability to disrupt the overall automotive industry. EV manufacturers have been focussing upon the usage of GaN components for the production of electric vehicle’s on-board chargers and inverters. GaN may also find its application in wireless devices and sensors that will be used in future autonomous vehicles. Companies working on automotive GaN devices are Transform, Yaskawa Electric Corporation, and Tesla, among others.
GaN for On-Board Chargers
An on-board charger (OBC) is a crucial component in any electric vehicle drivetrain, that manages the energy flow from a grid to the battery inside the vehicle. Due to the increasing requirement of high charging efficiency, high heat dissipation, and high-power density, there is a surging demand for compact and lightweight OBCs.
GaN helps the automotive OEMs design the OBC system in a manner which reduces the overall weight as well as power losses, thus, enabling a faster charging time. GaN-based OBCs tend to offer a higher electron mobility and a bandgap (3.4 eV) even higher than that of SiC-based OBCs.
GaN for Automotive Inverters
The prime purpose of the automotive inverter in electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles is to convert DC into AC for use in electric motor to drive the vehicle’s propulsion system. The automotive inverter plays a key role in capturing energy from regenerative braking and feeding it back to the battery. The design of power modules for this application aims at achieving higher levels of power density. The transistors constructed using GaN satisfy this requirement. GaN-based metal oxide field effect transistors (MOSFETs) stand a good chance for success in the future but are not yet commercial. Automotive inverters offer increased processing speed, ease of programming, flexible designs of interface, ease of integration, and cost-effectiveness.
Hence, driven by the various crucial properties, GaN material can be called as the “silicon of the future”. The growth of GaN market is gradually expected to unseat the vast silicon market. The material is expected to penetrate deeper into the fields of power electronics and cellular network infrastructure in the near future. Components constructed with GaN material are anticipated to boost 5G technology and make electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles more efficient and commercially viable. The various strategies adopted by GaN manufacturers, dominated by new businesses and collaborations will be further advancing the GaN industry, globally.