Skip to main content

Gallium Nitride Semiconductors Summary

Key Takeaways

  • Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductors offer high-speed performance and reduced carbon footprints, making them a game-changer in electronics.

  • GaN's wide bandgap enables the creation of compact, efficient devices capable of handling larger electric fields.

  • GaN technology's adoption in various industries includes automotive, data centers, and optoelectronics.

semiconductor wafer chip

Gallium Nitride semiconductors have incredible potential to revolutionize the electronics industry.

For decades, the electronics industry has heavily relied on silicon as the primary material for semiconductor chips. Recently, gallium nitride semiconductors have emerged as a remarkable contender for electronics and integrated circuits. Driven by its ability to enhance the environmental friendliness, efficiency, and miniaturization of electronic devices. GaN has emerged as a compelling choice for various reasons, including its ease and speed of production compared to silicon chips. Read on as we delve into the world of gallium nitride semiconductors, shedding light on what makes them unique and the uses that hold the promise of transforming various industries.

Important Gallium Nitride Semiconductor Features


Description and Importance

GaN's Bandgap

GaN has a wide bandgap (around 3.4 eV) compared to silicon (1.2 eV), enabling high carrier density, ultra-low resistance, and capacitance, resulting in speeds up to 100 times faster.

GaN vs. Silicon

GaN surpasses silicon in accommodating larger electric fields, achieving smaller form factors, faster switching capabilities, and higher maximum temperatures.

GaN Uses in Industry

GaN is being adopted in various industries, including automotive (low-voltage and high-voltage applications), consumer electronics (fast chargers), power supplies, aerospace, defense, data centers (high-speed ICs), optoelectronics (LEDs, laser diodes), and quantum devices.

Carbon Footprint Reduction

Transitioning to GaN technology can significantly reduce carbon emissions, with GaN power semiconductors having a carbon footprint ten times smaller than traditional silicon chips.

Energy Efficiency

GaN's adoption in data centers alone could save over 100 terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy and reduce CO2 emissions by 125 million tons by 2030.

The Bandgap: What Makes Gallium Nitride Semiconductors Special

Gallium Nitride (GaN) is a compound semiconductor material composed of gallium (Ga) and nitrogen (N) atoms. This crystalline substance belongs to the III-V group of semiconductors, a category that includes other notable materials like gallium arsenide (GaAs) and indium phosphide (InP). The defining characteristic of GaN semiconductor is its wide bandgap —the energy gap between the valence band and the conduction band in a material's electronic structure. GaN's wide bandgap, typically around 3.4 electron volts (eV), is significantly larger than traditional semiconductors like silicon (Si) at 1.2 eV. 

This wide bandgap property is why GaN is often called a "wide bandgap" material (WBG). The bandgap of a semiconductor material determines the electric field it can withstand. GaN's wider bandgap enables the creation of semiconductors with extremely short or narrow depletion regions. This, in turn, allows for the development of device structures with exceptionally high carrier density. With smaller transistors and shorter current paths, GaN achieves ultra-low resistance and capacitance, resulting in speeds that can be up to 100 times faster than traditional silicon.

GaN vs. Silicon: Bandgap Comparison 

 For instance, a typical 650 V lateral GaN transistor can handle over 800 V and features a drain drift region of 10-20 µm, equivalent to approximately 40-80 V/µm. This capability far exceeds the theoretical limit of silicon, which is around 20 V/µm. However, it still falls short of the bandgap limit of approximately 300 V/µm. This suggests significant potential for future advancements in lateral GaN devices to further improve their performance and capabilities. In summary, GaN technology can accommodate larger electric fields within a significantly smaller form factor than conventional silicon while simultaneously providing substantially faster switching capabilities and operating at higher maximum temperatures compared to their silicon-based counterparts.

Emerging GaN Semiconductors Uses Already in Industry

Various categories of GaN-based technologies exist, each offering solutions in a variety of industries. 

  • Within the automotive sector, there is a noticeable trend in the development and validation of both low-voltage gallium nitride semiconductor technologies (below 100 V) and high-voltage GaN technologies (exceeding 650 V) by various industry players. Low-voltage GaN solutions are primarily designed for the 48- to 12-V DC/DC conversion applications commonly found in mild hybrid electric vehicles. In contrast, the 650-V rated GaN components are specifically geared towards addressing the on-board charging needs of electric vehicles.

  • GaN devices have also recently ventured into the realm of high-power fast chargers designed for premium smartphones. The anticipation is that this robust consumer market, characterized by substantial demand, will be the primary driving force behind the growth of the GaN power device market over the course of the next couple of years. 

  • Starting in the early 2020s, there has been a growing adoption of GaN power transistors in power supplies used in electronic devices. These transistors play a crucial role in converting alternating current (AC) mains electricity into low-voltage direct current (DC) power.

  • GaN transistors are well-suited for serving as power amplifiers at microwave frequencies due to their ability to function at significantly higher temperatures and operate at elevated voltages in addition to containing beneficial attributes for the development of THz (terahertz) devices.

  • Gallium Nitride power semiconductors are finding applications in data center servers. As data center traffic continues to grow, the limitations of silicon in processing power effectively and efficiently become increasingly evident. Consequently, high-speed Gallium Nitride integrated circuits (ICs) are surpassing the performance of traditional, slower silicon chips.

  • Optoelectronics: GaN's wide bandgap also makes it suitable for optoelectronic applications. GaN-based light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and laser diodes emit high-intensity, blue or ultraviolet light, making them essential components in high-definition displays, solid-state lighting, and even medical devices for phototherapy.

  • Aerospace and Defense: The robustness and high-temperature operation of GaN semiconductors are particularly valuable in aerospace and defense applications. GaN-based components are used in radar systems, electronic warfare, and satellite communications to enhance performance and reliability.

  • Quantum Devices: Ongoing research explores the potential of GaN in quantum technologies, such as quantum dots and single-photon sources. These developments could lead to advancements in quantum computing and secure communication.

Gallium Nitride Semiconductor’s Carbon Footprint

As the global demand for energy continues to rise, transitioning to gallium nitride semiconductors holds the potential to meet this demand while minimizing carbon emissions. GaN design and integration have demonstrated the capability to produce next-generation power semiconductors with a carbon footprint that is ten times smaller than that of older, slower silicon chips. To further emphasize the advantages of GaN, it is estimated that a worldwide shift from silicon to GaN in data centers could reduce energy losses by 30-40%. This translates to potential savings of over 100 terawatt-hours (TWh) of energy and a reduction of 125 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030.

Harnessing the power of Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductors isn't just about adopting cutting-edge technology; it's about leveraging the full potential of GaN within your electronic designs. Cadence provides a comprehensive platform for packaging circuits with GaN-based components, ensuring that you can maximize their advantages. By seamlessly integrating GaN technology with Allegro X Advanced Package Designer, you can usher in a new era of high-performance electronics while staying ahead in sustainability and innovation.