Infineon Acquires GaN Systems, Bolstering Its Power Portfolio
Infineon has long been a leader in the power components industry. Now, the manufacturer is bringing GaN Systems' E-HEMTs into the fold.
In March 2023, Infineon announced an agreement to acquire GaN Systems for $830 million. Now, seven months later, Infineon officially closed the acquisition, including regulatory clearances. With the acquisition complete, Infineon consolidates its power components position in several high-growth markets, including automotive, motor control, and green industrial power.
GaN Systems' GaN E-HEMT portfolio. Image used courtesy of GaN Systems
Infineon’s core markets are high-power and high-frequency electronics. As such, GaN is a natural addition to its mission. GaN customers can benefit from the overall strength of Infineon's portfolio of wide-bandgap semiconductors while accessing its conventional high-power components.
The Draw of GaN Continues
Gallium nitride is relatively new to the electronics world. The material first found use in the 1990s in blue LEDs. More recently, the first GaN transistors hit the market in 2006. While silicon has continued to be the dominant semiconductor material, gallium nitride caught the eye of the high-power and high-frequency components industry. GaN has a higher band gap than does Si (3.5 eV vs 1.12 eV), and this higher bandgap allows for sustained higher voltages, switching frequencies, and temperatures while requiring less material.
Further, because GaN can switch at higher frequencies, devices with this material use smaller inductors and capacitors, reducing passive component costs. This results in smaller-sized systems. While the cost of individual GaN semiconductors is usually higher than equivalent silicon components, the reduced energy consumption and reduced number of ancillary components often lead to a lower overall system cost; GaN Systems estimates an approximate 10–20% savings.
Structure and operation of E-HEMT. Image used courtesy of GaN Systems
Producing GaN semiconductors is not as exotic as it once was. GaN manufacturing can use the same or nearly the same fab lines and processes as silicon manufacturing. GaN, however, requires an additional chemical vapor deposition step to grow the GaN layer on top of the silicon wafer over an aluminum nitride (AlN) insulating interlayer. Once the GaN layer is complete, the rest of the processing follows a conventional silicon process.
GaN Systems' E-HEMT Technology
GaN Systems refers to its devices as E-HEMTs, or enhancement-mode, high-electron mobility transistors. Like the more common MOSFET and IGBT, the E-HEMT is a three-terminal power switch. It doesn’t have a reverse body diode, nor does it need an external flyback diode, yet it has superior reverse recovery characteristics resulting in lower power switching losses. It is also easy to parallel and utilizes a simple gate drive.
By adding GaN Systems' technology to its portfolio, Infineon can design and produce products for high-speed communications and space applications. While gallium arsenide (GaAs) and silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors currently rule the microwave and higher frequency bands due to their high switching speed capabilities, GaN offers similar high switching speeds at higher voltages and temperatures. GaN’s 3.5 eV band gap bests that of GaAs at 1.42 eV and SiC at 3.26. Higher band gaps, in general, allow for higher power densities and faster switching times.
GaN out switches SiC MOSFETs with faster turn-on and turn-off times. Image used courtesy of GaN Systems
The high-power capability of GaN isn’t limited to big systems and microwave frequencies, either. The same efficiencies that deliver high-end performance also shrink size and power draw in mobile devices. GaN Systems says its E-HEMTs can replace traditional silicon MOSFETs in smaller products such as personal mobile devices, small robotics, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
To Infineon and Beyond
Much of Infineon’s core focus relates to energy efficiency—in mobility, power conditioning, and ultra-high-speed applications. Each of these areas is critical to the future of electronics. Data centers for AI, electric vehicles, crypto, and cloud computing are taking an increasingly high share of the world’s power. With its existing portfolio and new products from GaN Systems, Infineon is set up to meet the needs of such power-hungry industries.
GaN isn’t the only high band-gap name in town. In 2018, Microchip acquired Microsemi, in part to gain access to its silicon carbide product lines. Back in 2017, Infineon tried without success to acquire Wolfspeed, another SiC manufacturer. Now with GaN Systems in its family, Infineon will continue to maintain its place in leading-edge power components.