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Jun 24th, 2014
 
Efficient gallium nitride voltage converters for energy systems of the future
 
With the help of the semiconductor gallium nitride, considerable energy savings in electronic systems can be achieved.
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Due to its physical properties, electronic components based on gallium nitride can be operated more efficiently, with higher capacities and lower cooling efforts, than conventional silicon devices.  Under the project management of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF, a group of scientists is now developing a new generation of voltage converters: the improved gallium nitride technology promises energy-saving, fast and reliably operating systems – even in high temperatures. With new, cost-efficient production technologies, the improved components could soon enter serial production.

Applying novel, trendsetting technologies, the research and development project »Future efficient energy conversion with gallium-nitride-based power electronics for the next generation« (ZuGaNG) aims at the realization of a new product generation for power electronics. In the scope of the project, scientists from an association of industry and research partners develop high voltage transistors based on the efficient semiconductor gallium nitride for applications in voltage converters. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) with approximately four million Euros over the next three years and is part of the BMBF’s funding measure »Power electronics for increased energy-efficiency – Part 2: Electronics for energy of the future«.

Future possibilities: inductively coupled plasma based on gallium nitride electronics in a quartz glass tube perfused with gas, for material processing.

 

Installation for the analysis of the switching properties of GaN-based high voltage transistors.

Higher performance and lower expenses thanks to gallium nitride
With the improvement of the applied technology, the scientists are aiming for both a significant increase in the energy efficiency of voltage converters and a reduction of production costs for gallium-nitride-based power transistors of up to 50 %. Due to their high switching frequency, the transistors reduce losses of voltage converters and work reliably, even in high temperatures. Physical properties of the semiconductor gallium nitride, such as the high electron mobility and critical field strength facilitate the realization of power transistors with a longer lifetime and higher robustness in comparison to conventionally used silicon devices. »Furthermore, thanks to the high pulse frequency of our transistors, a miniaturization of the systems is possible, as we are able to design smaller passive devices«, explains Dr. Patrick Waltereit, project leader at Fraunhofer IAF. »This allows reducing the volume of the components, the cooling efforts, as well as the modules necessary for the cooling, thus leading to a reduction of production as well as operating costs.«

Together with their industry and research partners, the scientists at Fraunhofer IAF strive for the development of novel concepts for design, material production and process technologies for the production of power electronics components. First demonstrators will soon validate the voltage converters’ performance in applications in heating, household and manufacturing technologies, in electro mobility or in the generation of renewable energies. The power transistors could help to save energy in future pump motors of washing machines or heatings, in chargers for electronic vehicles, generators for plasma or laser systems, or in photovoltaic plants. Besides the construction of demonstrators, the project partners pursue an embracing characterization of the gallium-nitride-based transistors, in order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the correlations between the production process on the one hand, and structural, electric and thermal properties on the other hand. Furthermore, it is the goal to further optimize the technology regarding the robustness and reliability of the devices, so that it can finally qualify for industrial production.

Innovative concepts for the future: gallium nitride in a CMOS-surrounding
An innovative approach for a lasting reduction of production costs is, among others, an integration of the gallium-nitride-based transistors in CMOS (Complementary-metal-oxide-semiconductor)-production lines. This would allow a cost-efficient serial production. In the upcoming years, scientists furthermore want to combine the special integration potential, the high output and the extraordinary functionality of the silicon-CMOS-technology with the high electric power density and robustness of components based on gallium nitride, thus making the promising possibilities for optimized power electronics based on gallium nitride available for future applications.

About the project
Aim of the project ZuGaNG is the development of a new generation of gallium-nitride-based high voltage converters for power electronics, which reduce the switching losses of power converters due to their high pulse frequency and which work reliably under high pressure and temperature. Novel concepts for power electronics modules and their manufacturing process shall facilitate cost-efficient production of the gallium nitride components.

Under the project leadership of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF, leading institutions from industry and research are working together in an interdisciplinary project group, covering the complete supply chain for a new product generation. The following companies and institutions participate in the project together with Fraunhofer IAF: Robert Bosch GmbH, TRUMPF Hüttinger GmbH, KACO new energy GmbH, X-FAB Semiconductor Foundries AG, Lewicki microelectronic GmbH, EDC Electronic Design Chemnitz GmbH, Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology ISIT, Ferdinand-Braun-Institute, University of Erlangen, University of Reutlingen, as well as the University of Magdeburg.


 
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