Envision what’s next with high-voltage GaN

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Imagine a world where we won’t need to build as many power plants to keep pace with skyrocketing digital demands. A world where industrial, enterprise-computing, telecom and renewable-energy systems operate significantly faster and more efficiently.

This world may soon be within reach.

With our introduction of LMG3410 – a high-voltage, driver-integrated solution built around groundbreaking gallium-nitride (GaN) technology – innovators will be able to create smaller, more efficient, higher-performing applications than were possible with traditional silicon-based technology.

GaN“Gallium nitride is like a super-charged engine,” said Steve Tom, director for our High Voltage New Technology Development group. “It makes systems faster, more souped up and able to run with more energy. Bringing the driver, the package and other components around it can really improve the performance of any system.”

The implications can get personal. Every time you use your smart phone, place an online order, check social media or upload photos to an online account, you connect with a vast data center that houses thousands of servers.

Those servers and centers require huge amounts of electricity to operate. And the demand for electricity – and for the power plants that generate it – is growing faster and faster as our lives become increasingly connected and reliant on power-hungry digital devices.

“As we expect more from our electronics, as the Internet of Things grows and all of our devices are connected, we consume more power,” said Eric Faraci, a systems and applications engineer on the GaN development team. “More power consumption requires the construction of more massive power plants. But if we use technologies such as gallium nitride, we can increase efficiency to a point where we may not need to increase power-generation capability.”

So imagine living a greener life.

“We need to reduce energy consumption,” Steve said. “The acceleration rate for how much electricity is being used worldwide is not sustainable.”

At TI, we work continually not only to imagine, but to enable those future technologies today.

Not feeling the heat

GaN is a super-fast semiconductor material created by combining two elements, gallium and nitrogen. This combination allows electrons to move more freely than they can through silicon, which for generations has been the fundamental building block that undergirds our electronics.

Circuits in systems ranging from cell phones to high-end industrial tools and servers work by turning millions of tiny switches on and off. And every time a switch moves, it generates heat.

Heat limits the performance of systems. When your laptop’s power supply feels warm, for example, it’s because electrons moving through switches on the circuits inside it are generating heat and reducing its efficiency.

Because gallium nitride is a better, more efficient semiconductor material that generates much less heat, designers can pack more switches into a smaller space.

The availability of a 600-volt GaN power-stage switch with an integrated driver is especially important in isolated high-voltage industrial, telecom, enterprise computer and renewable-energy applications. The benefits of LMG3410 include:

  • Doubling the power density of state-of-the-art silicon power-factor correction converters.
  • Reducing power loss, voltage stress and electromagnetic interference compared to discrete GaN solutions.
  • Enabling new topologies.

“GaN is a better mousetrap,” Steve said. “If you can significantly improve the density of the switches, if you can reduce the resistivity and make them move faster, you’re able to get more performance for a given size because it reduces the need to remove heat. It does all of these wonderful things that have historically limited what electronics can do.”

Complete solution

The announcement of the GaN solution will have a near-term impact on high-voltage applications. But as system designs that incorporate GaN become more prevalent, its uses could extend to lower-voltage applications such as high-end audio amplifiers, drones, electric cars, lighting, computing, solar panels, imaging technology for vehicles and, ultimately, anything that plugs into a wall socket for power.

“It’s an almost unlimited opportunity to find different types of applications,” Steve said. “Let’s take drones for instance. Today, drones are mainly a hobbyist application, but with GaN, we may start seeing them used for more commercial and industrial applications.”

The key is battery life, Steve said. Today, most drones have about 20 minutes of air time before they have to recharge, return or run out of power.

“One of the good benefits that GaN can bring is, because it can switch faster, because it can drive at a higher efficiency, you can reduce your components, magnetics, inductors and capacitors – both in volume and weight,” he said. “You can directly impact the length of the flight time of a drone.”

Such applications will run much more efficiently because we have packaged a GaN switch with a driver and support it with an entire ecosystem designed to help applications take full advantage of its advanced performance. In addition, the device includes built-in protection against temperature, short circuits and different voltage conditions.

“We look at it from an overall system point of view,” said Masoud Beheshti, an advanced technology marketing manager at TI. “We’ve made it easier for our customers to design this device into their systems. We understand how to leverage it with other devices in our portfolio to provide a complete solution, which helps our customers get to market faster and solve their problems more quickly and efficiently.”

Reducing barriers

The LMG3410 is the first integrated circuit that includes GaN switches manufactured by TI. The devices are made in a silicon-compatible wafer-manufacturing facility and have been fully qualified using our decades of process-technology experience.

“With over 3 million hours in reliability testing, the LMG3410 gives power designers the confidence to realize the potential of GaN and to rethink their power architecture and systems in ways not feasible before now,” said Steve Lambouses, TI vice president of high-voltage power solutions. “Expanding on TI’s reputation for manufacturing capability and extensive system-design expertise, the new power stage is a significant step for the GaN market.”

This reduces barriers that would keep designers from being able to use this device in their applications, Steve Tom added.

“That’s why we want to have control over manufacturing,” he said. “That’s why we have committed so much time to reliability testing. That’s why we have developed companion circuits that help maximize the device’s performance.

“GaN has tremendous performance capability, and we help designers take their applications to a new level.”

Additional resources:
• Check out TI’s portfolio of GaN solutions.
• Read our new white paper: “Optimizing GaN performance with an integrated driver.
• Learn more about how TI is making GaN more reliable in the blog post, “Let’s GaN together, reliably.
• Join the TI E2E™ Community Gallium Nitride (GaN) Solutions forum to find solutions, get help, share knowledge and solve problems with fellow engineers and TI experts.