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    Empowering the green revolution with wide-bandgap semiconductors

    Wide-bandgap semiconductors outperform traditional Silicon

    By Alix Paultre | May 23, 2017

    The electronic design industry is in the midst of a near-perfect storm of disruptive sea change, one sending ripples and waves large and small through our entire economy. Inter-related yet distinct, these challenges come from recent technological advances being commercialized and entering the marketplace. New topologies, methodologies, and materials have created opportunities, markets, and application spaces. Two of these disruptive spaces, wide-bandgap semiconductors and alternative energy systems, are highly complementary to the point where the former is a powerful force multiplier for the latter.

    Wide-bandgap semiconductors outperform traditional Silicon in ways that directly benefit the creation of alternate energy systems. Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN) have bandgaps of 3.3 eV and 3.4 eV respectively, whereas Silicon has a bandgap of 1.1eV. The ability to operate at higher voltages, temperatures, and frequencies enable the creation of electronic systems that are smaller, lighter, cooler, and more powerful than those based on legacy technology.

    One such example was shown at APEC in Tampa and PCIM in Nuremberg by GaN Systems. Using their 100V E-HEMT 90A device, Egtronics (www.egtronics.koreasme.com) created 48V bi-directional inverter for mild hybrid systems that is significantly smaller and lighter than a similar power system based on Silicon (Figure 1). The 7.6 x 4.6 x 0.51 mm GS61008P has an RDS(on) of 7.0 mΩ and enables the inverter to have an efficiency 12% higher than Silicon in a small air-cooled form factor.

    At the recent PCIM show Guy Moxley of Wolfspeed, a Cree company (www.wolfspeed.com), pointed out that automotive systems based on wide-bandgap technology are now on both ends of the power chain. “Wide-bandgap is great for green vehicles. I recently flew into Taipei and the taxi at the airport was using one of our SiC-based car-charging systems. The products aren’t just promises, they are out in the field.”

    Not only are these new semiconductors in current charging and power management systems in and out of the vehicle, they are a significant enabler of next-generation systems. One example is in wireless charging, where better tech will encourage greater market penetration of EVs and plug-in hybrids as user resistance to unfamiliar systems is overcome by advanced convenience and functionality. The ability to handle higher voltages and operate at higher frequencies enables a significant reduction in the size and weight of the passive components while also reducing thermal issues and the related subsystems’ complexity and cost.

    Beyond green cars, trucks, and cycles, alternate energy generation is also empowered by wide-bandgap semiconductors. Just as vehicle inverters can be shrunk and improved, solar inverters can reap the same benefits. One of the greatest barriers to green-grid initiatives is cost-effectiveness, and creating small and light high-efficiency power conversion systems with lower cost of ownership increases the value of wind, wave, and solar to the grid as they can be more easily and efficiently deployed on their own or integrated into legacy systems.

     

    Wide-bandgap semiconductors outperform traditional Silicon