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Gallium Nitride: The Unknown Superhero

November 2020 | Innovations


Transistors are an important part of almost all electrical devices, from alarm clocks to jets. As thin film transistors (TFT) they make flat screens possible and the microprocessors in computers also consist of billions of smallest transistors. Their task is always the same: they control electrical currents and voltages. The performance of transistors has been steadily increasing since their invention in the 1940s. The material used is not insignificant: if the first transistors were made of germanium and indium, silicon has been used since the early 1970s, which still dominates the market today.

Since about 2010, a new material has taken the top spot in transistor technology: gallium nitride (GaN). Outside the professional public, information is scarce, but the manufacturers of GaN transistors communicate the advantages of the technology very well: transistors with gallium nitride, according to manufacturer Wolfspeed, are more powerful than those with silicon and can be used in a much wider temperature range. As the EE Times explains, they are also significantly smaller and lighter.

But what are the specific uses of GaN transistors? Electromobility plays an important role: At Transphorm, gallium nitride is used in the charging infrastructure. VisIC Technologies uses gallium nitride in vehicles, such as safety-relevant circuit breakers. Wolfspeed emphasizes the advantages of GaN transistors for the operation of the 5G radio network. In principle, applications are conceivable in virtually all electrical devices that have so far been equipped with silicon transistors. Consumers have also recently come into contact with GaN products: Gizmochina.com reports that Dell launched the first laptop and mobile phone charger with GaN technology in early November. It is currently not clear how diverse the possibilities of the new material could still be in the future.


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