CES 2023 in Las Vegas was a perfect venue to find out where GaN semiconductors stand in terms of target applications and market penetration.
Gallium nitride (GaN) is still a new technology, and it’s rapidly diversifying in terms of applications. After all, GaN semiconductors entered mass production in 2018. CES 2023 in Las Vegas was a perfect venue to find out where GaN semiconductors stand in terms of target applications and market penetration.
While giving a demo of GaN products at the company’s booth at CES 2023, Stephen Oliver, VP of corporate marketing at Navitas Semiconductor, said that the first market for GaN was ultrafast chargers for cellphones and laptops. “In 2018, we saw a 40 W USB PD charger for laptops, and from there, it’s moving to higher powers ranging from 120-W to 200-W chargers for laptops.”
Figure 1 The 45-W charger for the Samsung S22+ smartphone is built around GaN semiconductors. Source: GaN Systems
As GaN Systems CEO Jim Witham puts it, 2021 was when OEMs started to look at GaN chargers for mobile phones and laptops, and at CES 2023, it’s already an old story. So, what’s next for GaN semiconductors? Witham sees power supply for data center servers as a prominent new growth venue. “Smaller size and higher efficiency with GaN devices correspond to significant dollar savings while power density boost allows more compute power in the form of more CPUs, GPUs, and memory to be put on the data center rack.”
Figure 2 Solum has developed a 2,700 W power supply for data center servers using GaN components. Source: GaN Systems
While Oliver acknowledged power supplies for data center servers as a major growth venue, he pointed to another important future market for GaN semiconductors. “The next market is TV power supply, especially with 8K TV, which is very power hungry,” he said. “The 8K TVs consume three times more power than ultra-HD TVs, which calls for a very thin and energy efficient power supply.” That amounts to nearly 420-W power supply designs.
Besides data centers and 8K TV power supplies, Oliver also mentioned motor drive applications for home appliances. So, while mobile chargers have already happened and data center applications are just midstream, what’s next for GaN devices? According to Witham, GaN is taking off in automotive areas like DC-DC converters and onboard chargers (OBCs).
For instance, Canoo has employed GaN semiconductors in 7.2 kW OBC for electric vehicles (EVs)—used as delivery vans for Walmart—to create OBCs that are lighter and one-third the size of the OBC developed with silicon devices. Likewise, Vitesco has used GaN semiconductors in high-voltage DC/DC converters for EVs and hybrid vehicles.
Figure 3 GaN semiconductors are powering OBCs in electric delivery vans for Walmart. Source: GaN Systems
There is a need for greater clarity on which applications GaN semiconductors are targeting, especially when there is some ambiguity on the respective roles of GaN and silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors. A broader way to see this is that SiC is operates in high-voltage applications while GaN is catering to medium-voltage designs. Here, it’s important to note that silicon devices still offer value for low-voltage applications.
Each one of them has its respective sweet spots, and there is some fight on the fringes.
This article was originally published on Planet Analog.
Majeed Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of EDN and Planet Analog, has covered the electronics design industry for more than two decades.