Displacing the Silicon Power MOSFET with eGaN® FETs
35 years ago the silicon power MOSFET was a disruptive technology that displaced the bipolar transistor – and a $12B market emerged. The dynamics of this transition taught us that there are four key factors controlling the adoption rate of a new power conversion technology:
- Does it enable significant new applications?
- Is it easy to use?
- Is it reliable?
- Is it VERY cost effective to the user?
All four factors have been met with Efficient Power Conversion’s (@EPC_Corp) gallium nitride (#GaN) products. Let’s review the work that has been done over the past five years to address the first three key factors – it is the fourth question, competitive pricing, that is the focus of this article.
Does it Enable Significant New Applications?
As with all new technologies, enabling applications that otherwise go unrealized is the best starting point for introducing the technology. With new applications, the need for increased performance justifies the higher pricing that usually accompanies the introduction of a new technology into the market; so too with gallium nitride semiconductors.
Since their introduction five years ago, eGaN® FETs have fostered the development of several new applications, including wireless power transfer,envelope tracking, LiDAR (Light Distancing and Ranging), X-Ray-in-a-pillcolonoscopies, and wirelessly powered artificial hearts. Beyond applications dependent upon power transistors, gallium nitride technology is now being applied to integrated circuits (IC) – both analog, and in the future, digital. These IC products enhance the performance and cost competitiveness of existing products and new, unforeseen applications are rapidly emerging.
Is it Easy to Use?
eGaN® transistors from EPC are designed to be used in a similar fashion to existing power MOSFETs, and therefore power systems engineers can use their design experience with minimal additional training.
However, to assist design engineers up the learning curve, EPC has established itself as the leader in educating the industry about gallium nitride devices and their applications. As a matter of fact, in addition to publishing over 75 technical articles and presentations, EPC has published four GaN transistor textbooks (including one in Chinese).
To assist practicing power design engineers, EPC has conducted “hands-on” daylong seminars in major electronic industry cities around the world, such as San Jose, Boston, Shanghai and Tokyo. EPC is actively engaged with more than 30 universities around the world in order to lay the groundwork for the next generation of highly skilled power system designers being trained in getting the most out of eGaN® FETs.
Is it Reliable?
Reliability testing of GaN transistors continues to accumulate with positive results. eGaN® FETs have been subjected to a wide variety of reliability tests for device qualification, including High Temperature Reverse Bias, High Temperature Gate Bias, High Temperature Storage, Temperature Cycling, High Temperature High Humidity Reverse Bias, Autoclave, and Moisture Sensitivity.
Acceleration factor tests have been conducted over voltage and temperature in order to estimate the time to failure within the datasheet operating range. Under both HTRB and HTGB type stress conditions, the mean time to failure (MTTF) well exceeds 10 years at maximum operating temperature and at critical voltage levels.
These studies have further shown that eGaN® FETs are able to operate with very low probability of failures within the reasonable lifetime of end products manufactured today.
Is it Very Cost Effective to the User?
For emerging technologies, competitive pricing with well-established technologies is a formidable challenge, especially if the new technology aspires to be a disruptive, displacement technology. And with the latest family of eGaN® FETs, the competitive price barrier has been crossed – now the performance of GaN at the price of a MOSFET is a reality! Here is how competitive pricing was done:
- Reduced production costs – eGaN® FETs are production based upon MOSFET fabrication methods and equipment. Benefiting from the learning curve of the last five years, yields have increased to the point of being comparable with MOSFET yields, production methods have been streamlined and, thus, the cost of producing GaN devices has dropped substantially.
- Chip scale packaging – typical MOSFET plastic packaging represents about 50% of the cost of the final product. Low voltage eGaN® FETs are “package-less,” thus cutting the cost for production by that 50%! In addition, without a package the possibility of field failures due to poor assembly are greatly reduced.
- Extremely small size – faster switching translates into smaller size, higher efficiency, and lower system cost. For example, the latest family of eGaN® FETs is about one-fortieth the area of equivalent MOSFET component.
There’s no stopping gallium nitride technology now – all four key factors to high volume adoption have been achieved: GaN enables new applications, GaN is easy to use, GaN is reliable, and GaN is competitively priced.
The $12B MOSFET market is right now “fair game” for superior eGaN® FET technology. And, looking to the near future, with the growth in identified end-use applications mentioned about, which are enabled by GaN, the market potential could double by 2020. Longer term, the total available market for GaN technology could reach over $300B, with the inclusion of analog and digital integrated circuits incorporating this high performance technology.
Power conversion is going GaN…those slow to adopt will begin to lose ground.