A GaN Roundup: RF MMICs, Power ICs, and SOIC Drivers Keep the Ball Rolling
The use of gallium nitride (GaN) picks up speed as this year draws to a close with new releases from Microchip, Navitas, and Teledyne e2v. Let's see how these new products are leveraging GaN technology.
Silicon-based semiconductor electronics are the backbone of today’s computing industry, used in many different types of integrated circuit designs from basic logic gates and complex processors to a wide variety of sensors and other components.
It’s one of the most abundant elements on Earth and has shaped our electronics into the devices that we use daily.
Nevertheless, silicon (Si) components are approaching their limits. Increasing performance can become physically impossible, giving engineers space to research new elements and materials that might provide them with an advantage where Si comes up short.
One such element is gallium, a silvery metal considered a critical element for emerging technologies. It is a prominent candidate for developing high-performance semiconductor ICs in the form of two compounds: gallium arsenide (GaA) and gallium nitride (GaN).
A table showing some basic comparisons between Si, silicon carbide (SiC), and GaN. Image used courtesy of NexGen Power Systems
This element has long been used for manufacturing specific types of LEDs and solar cells; however, more recently, gallium materials have proven to have some favorable characteristics for next-generation telecommunication technologies, particularly in the form of GaN.
This compound is a wide bandgap (the bandgap is the minimum amount of energy necessary for an electron to break free from its orbit) semiconductor that features a hard hexagonal crystalline structure.
The bandgap is a vital semiconductor characteristic that determines the eclectic field that a material can withstand.
Since the bandgap of GaN is more than three times that of Si materials, engineers can develop GaN semiconductors with very short depletion regions, smaller transistor footprints (on ICs), allowing for shorter current paths and lower resistance and capacitance throughout a circuit.
With all that being said, this article focuses on three new developments from three prominent companies that base these technologies around GaN.
Microchip’s Latest RF MMICs Pursue Telecom and Defense
Microchip Technologies, most famously known for its microcontroller product lines, is one of many companies utilizing GaN to expand its RF power portfolio. This expansion includes new monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs) and discrete transistors that cover frequencies of up to 20 GHz.
Microchip's latest RF GaN-on-SiC chipset for telecom and defense applications. Image used courtesy of Microchip
These products are manufactured using a combination of gallium nitride and silicon carbide (GaN-on-SiC), allowing for a high power density and yield while featuring high voltage operation and longevity running at junction temperatures of up to 255 degrees Celsius.
Microchip's most recent line of MMICs cover frequencies from 2 to 20 GHz and are designed to address some of the linearity and efficiency challenges in higher-order modulation in many new and advanced wireless communications technologies.
Microchip's specific new products are the ICP0349PP7-1-300I and ICP1543-1-110I RF power chips.
Their intended targeted applications include telecommunications networks such as the 5G standard, satellite communications, and defense systems such as radar detection, electronic warfare systems, and test equipment.
Navitas' GaNFast and GaNSense Power ICs
Apart from telecommunication chips, like with Microchip's MMICs, GaN also finds application in developing next-generation charging circuits.
A graph showing the comparison of efficiency vs. speed (frequency) for Si, discrete GaN, and Navitas' GaN power ICs. Image used courtesy of Navitas
GaNFast is a GaN technology featuring lower charging times than Si chips due to the wide bandgap characteristics of the material. These properties also allow for cooler charging temperatures and thus more efficient power systems.
Current Navitas GaNFast chargers claim to be three times faster and half the size and weight of traditional chargers.
Navitas recently introduced its third-generation power ICs that feature new characteristics and improvements.
One of these features is its GaNSense technology which integrates sensors and protection circuits into its ICs. This integration allows vital real-time autonomous sensing and protection to be embedded into the charging chip itself during the system design process.
This new sensing technology includes current and temperature sensors improving energy savings by ten percent from previous generations.
Additionally, having onboard sensing and protection also means reducing the number of components on a PCB, making systems even smaller and more efficient.
With its announcement, the company introduced ten new products in 5 x 6 and 6 x 8 PQFN packaging, rated at 650 V/800 V with 2 kV electrostatic discharge protection and a low drain-source 'on resistance' of 120 to 450 mOhms targeting the development of laptop and smartphone charging circuits.
Teledyne’s drivers for GaN applications
One final company that recently announced a new line of products centered around GaN is the semiconductor solutions company Teledyne e2v HiRel.
Its two new chips, the TDGD271 and TDGD274 are a pair of silicon isolated gate driver components designed to drive GaN field effect transistors (FETs) to develop a wide variety of systems.
Teledyne e2v's TDGD271 and TDGD274 chips. Image used courtesy of Teledyne e2v
The intended applications of these ICs center around power systems such as DC/DC conversion, battery management systems (BMS), and other types of power supplies such as point of load modules.
Both chips are designed to work with a broad spectrum of SiC and GaN transistors, particularly insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBTs), metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFETs), and high electron mobility transistor (HEMTs), an area where Teledyne offers a wide range of products.
The TDGD271 is a single channel, 8-pin small outline integrated circuit (SOIC) driver featuring a very low jitter.
The TDGD274 is a dual-channel, 16-pin SOIC driver with PWM (pulse width modulation) inputs for control.
These chips are 4 Amp isolated gate drivers and have a working temperature range from -55 to +125 degrees celsius.
The Next Move for GaN
Even though Si semiconductors aren't going anywhere in the near future, these new technologies, such as novel gallium-based semiconductor applications, are essential for developing next-generation electronics.
The wide bandgap characteristic of this semiconductor allows for new developments that can improve telecommunications and solve power challenges while being more efficient and running cooler than their Si counterparts.
Research into this technology and current products such as those offered by these three companies is setting GaN on the path to revolutionizing how we use our devices in the future. It will be interesting to see what next year brings to GaN innovations.
Interested in learning more about other recent GaN releases? Read on in the articles down below.