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Meet Gallium Nitride, silicon of the future
November 12, 2018, 11:28 am

Last week, Anker, the Chinese company that specializes in power banks as well as computer and mobile peripherals, launched a tiny new power bank that replaced the traditional silicon with gallium nitride (GaN) to store its power. This was the latest example of the growing popularity of the transparent, glass-like GaN, which proponents say has the power to one day unseat silicon and slash energy use worldwide.

Silicon has been the backbone of the technology industry for decades, but it is slowly reaching a theoretical limit to how much further it can be improved. All materials have a ‘band gap’ related to how well they can conduct electricity. In the case of GaN, it has a wider band gap than silicon, which means it can sustain higher voltages than silicon and the current can run through the device more quickly.

Consequently, GaN electronics are far more efficient than their silicon counterparts, have less energy loss and can survive higher operating temperatures. This enables them to be used effectively for a wide range of applications while potentially slashing power usage by 10 to 25 percent.

The reason why silicon has not been replaced by GaN is that silicon remains well-entrenched in manufacturing processes and remains reliable and cheap to produce. Revamping whole industries to switch to using GaN can be a costly affair, so some manufacturers are looking at ways of growing GaN on top of silicon in the hope of taking advantage of existing manufacturing platforms. Meanwhile, several large semiconductor manufacturers are researching ways to further realize the full potential of GaN in the power electronics field.

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