GaN Transistors Taking Center Stage in Power Electronics – FTEX

May 12, 2021

GaN Transistors Taking Center Stage in Power Electronics

Bélal Provencher

Manufacturers who include such high-performance technologies into their product designs will capture more value from growing their market share in the emerging electric vehicle market.

A significant shift has taken place in the performance of Power Electronics Systems, with GaN transistors taking center stage. Gallium nitride semiconductors outperform silicon MOSFETs and SiCFETs in terms of power density and switching frequency. GaNs’ performance has dramatically improved, allowing electric vehicle (EV) systems to show gains in the form factor, size, and efficiency in a variety of modern applications that were not previously feasible with silicon transistors.

Characteristics of GaN transistors outperforming other FETs in power density and switching frequency. Source: Angelo Alberto Messina, Dr. of engineering at STMicroelectronics. (2019). ‘’REACTION project as a Driver for key European SiC Technologies focused on Power Electronics Development.’’

How Significantly Do GaNs Outperform MOSFETs?

A significant part of GaNs’ appeal stems from their unique material and electrical properties, which make them suitable for a wide range of customizable electronic applications to manage power in a powertrain

In the case of high-power conversion applications, increasing frequency switching compared to silicone MOSFETs by a factor of 10 can open new horizons by reducing the overall size of the power-conversion system by two-thirds, increasing the scope for enhanced solutions to power management in EVs.

In “GaN Growth Seen Exploding on Efficiency Gains“,  a May 12, 2020 article, published in Power Electronics News, GaN System’s CEO Jim Witham explained: “We know that GaN can switch at very high frequency, so customers like to increase the frequency. Why do they do that? Because when you increase the switching frequency, the magnetics, and the capacitor get smaller. So typically, engineers will make the system operating frequency two times or four times higher, and that makes the capacitors and inductors be half the size or one fourth the size. So they put all that together:  lower losses mean smaller cooling systems and the ability to switch at higher frequency reduces the size of the components. And that’s how they get those 4X  smaller numbers.”

GaN-Powered Motor Controllers Extend Your Range

Today’s battery pack technology has led to reductions in size and weight, as well as greater capabilities for storing and delivering energy. Increasing the energy density of Lithium-Ion batteries has stalled, and new battery chemistries are years, if not, decades away from commercialization. Development and improvement cycles for GaN technologies are much faster than those for battery cells development because GaN R&D teams such as FTEX are not trying to increase energy density—they’re finding ways to use that energy more efficiently. FTEX technology will fast-track the energetic transition to electric power by building new GaN-based circuits in order to derive greater benefits, such as increased autonomy while deriving better performance from smaller and less expensive batteries and motors.

Combining lithium-ion battery packs with a GaN-based motor controller will significantly increase the power management capabilities of all electric vehicles currently on the market. According to GaN Systems CEO Jim Witham, such progress would result in an “industry-changing shift in both the short-term and ‘near future’ relationships between technological control systems and energy—creating significant products and system-wide changes.”

Electric Vehicles Powered by GaN Transistor

Electric cars, buses, bikes, mopeds, scooters, and skateboards are changing the shape of urban transit. Many of these systems have emerged at breakneck speed over the last decade, but are still lacking in terms of reliability, efficient power management and sustainability. Manufacturers who allow such high-performance technologies as GaNs to be integrated into their products will find themselves able to more adequately address problems in power losses, battery range extension, and more efficient power distribution—all to optimize driving and riding performance.

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