Gallium nitride, or GaN, was a hot topic among power companies at APEC 2018. AAC's Karissa Manske had the chance to ask GaN Systems CEO, Jim Witham, about what GaN's capable of and which applications it will be used for this year.

GaN has been an area of intense interest (and speculation) for some time due to its quick power switching capabilities when compared to other materials, like silicon. It also generally allows for smaller form factors, an important advantage when facing modern design challenges. 

Based out of Ottawa, Canada, GaN Systems provides gallium nitride power switching transistors in 100V and 650V product lines. 

At APEC 2018, we had the chance to meet with GaN Systems’ CEO Jim Witham to discuss GaN Systems’ products and areas he’s most excited about for GaN’s future.

 

Jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems.

 

Cutting the Cord: Wireless Charging

Wireless charging and rapid charging were popular trends at APEC. At the GaN Systems booth, we saw demos that utilized GaN solutions in wireless charging products, allowing for small, thin form factors that will make wireless charging so convenient.

Witham views this as part of the natural progression of how we interact with our technology. “Twenty years ago we cut the cord and used cell phones, ten years ago we cut the ethernet cord and now use Wi-Fi," he says. "And we're right there to cut the power cord."

One challenge of wireless charging comes with providing the right amount of power for different types of electronics. Today, most cell phones require about 30 W of power to properly charge a single device and laptops require around 65 W. GaN solves the problem, Witham says, by creating wireless charging pads that can provide up to 150 W, allowing multiple devices to charge on a single charger.

 

“Music Sounds So Good on GaN”

As GaN becomes more affordable, the possibility of using it in other consumer electronics, such as speakers, grows.

The first time he was introduced to speakers utilizing GaN transistors, Witham was worried he wouldn't be able to hear a difference with GaN. But "Music sounds so good on GaN... They played Hotel California for me, they played a Mozart piece… [It was the] same equipment, just different transistors and the reason is because GaN transistors switch really fast. What you're trying to do in music is reproduce the actual sounds and so a fast transistor can reproduce the sounds more accurately than a slow transistor.”

This area of GaN use is still in its infancy, but companies are catching on. Witham predicts it will be something we see in the near future.

 

Crunching the Numbers: Data Centers

The amount of data gathered on any given day is staggering. Hence, the number of data centers has grown exponentially over the last several years. 

“Data centers have gone from 1% to 3% of all of the electricity we use. It’s headed toward 5% and some people even speculate it will be 10%,” says Witham. “Using the Internet of Things and putting sensors all around us brings in data and it needs to be processed and stored.”

One of the major pain points for data center maintenance is physical space and weight. GaN allowing for smaller and lighter power solutions is a welcome improvement. 

 

Image courtesy of GaN Systems.

 

Automotive: Electric Vehicles

The use of GaN compared to SiC and silicon in EVs was an area of hot debate at APEC 2018. Some at the conference believed that SiC was the obvious choice for automotive applications. Unsurprisingly, GaN Systems believes that GaN is the clear winner.

“All the automotive guys use GaN," says Witham. "It’s a long design cycle, but they’re all kind of in the middle of the cycles."

As shown at their booth, a battery charger utilizing GaN is about a third of the size of a silicon battery charger. Reducing weight and size for everything that goes into vehicles is a big benefit for automotive manufacturers.

 

Renewable Energy Applications: Solar

Solar is an ever-improving method of gathering renewable energy. However, solar panels (obviously) only work when the sun it out. The trick is to combine renewable solar power with battery systems.

Witham sees new GaN Systems products being used in instances ranging from first responders and military to recreational energy harvesting uses. He showcased a small GaN-based solar system of about 500 W with USB ports and AC power outlets that can fold up to the size of a briefcase. Larger systems could provide discounts to homeowners who could lock in cheaper rate per kilowatt hour.

 

GaN Systems Solutions for 2018

To address the increasing demands in automotive, industrial, and renewable resource applications, GaN Systems recently announced two new GaN power transistors: one offering 100 V/120 A, the other at 650 V/120 A.

 

 

The 100 V, 120 A, 5 mΩ GaN E-HEMT works in 48 V applications while the 650 V, 120 A GaN E-HEMT provides a power density from 20-500 kW for larger ticket items such as automotive traction inverters, high-power on-board chargers, industrial motor drives, and large-scale energy storage systems. 

If any of our readers have had the opportunity to use GaN in these applications, please tell us about your experiences in the comments.

 

A Power Turnover, A New Paradigm

There are numerous areas of electronics that need high amounts of power within limited space, so Witham believes that GaN will show up in more and more electronics. 

Witham sees it as the next big turnover in power. “It’s such a big market and there’s such a big change happening. In power, there’s a turnover about every ten years. In the 90s, MOSFETs came out. Then at the turn of the century, it was super junction MOSFETs. We’re seeing that turnover happen again...we’re in that cycle and everybody’s rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.”

 

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