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$2m award drives automotive GaN-on-Si transistors

The US government hopes Velox Semiconductor's enhancement-mode FETs will put it on the road to more efficient hybrid vehicles.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded Velox Semiconductor $2 million to develop a GaN replacement for silicon-based automotive power switching transistors.

The Advanced Technical Program project will give the Somerset, New Jersey, based Emcore spin-out two years from November 2007 to make GaN-on-Si enhancement mode FETs.

In the first phase of the program Velox will be focusing on 600 V, 20 A GaN FETs and it will later expand this to 1200 V, 100 A devices.

The first phase will act as a proving ground for Velox s technology, before moving on to higher-power switches for automotive applications, the company explained. During the initial period, Velox will narrow down three potential approaches to producing MOCVD-grown true enhancement-mode devices to just one.

In power conversion applications, enhancement-mode FETs are required to be fully off when no current is applied and switch to fully on when there is current. The NIST project brief emphasizes the potential benefits of wide-bandgap materials like SiC and GaN, which could provide much faster switching between these states than silicon.

“The use of a GaN device provides many advantages for the user, including reduced switching losses, increased efficiency, and improved temperature performance,” said Boris Peres, Velox s chief operating officer. “There is very strong interest from manufacturers of power supplies and automotive manufacturers,” he added.

Japan widely supports the development of GaN power transistors by Matsushita, Toshiba, Furukawa, Toyota and others. This award sees the US government following the example set by its Japanese counterpart.

To this end, the NIST brief makes its understanding of the importance of the power-switching market clear.

“These devices would have two major benefits for the US economy,” it says.

“The fuel efficiency of the best-in-class hybrid electrical vehicles could be increased significantly and power supplies could become at least 50 percent smaller and more efficient.”

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