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International Rectifier Signals Major GaN Plan

The semiconductor giant reveals its release schedule for high-volume production of GaN-based power management devices.

International Rectifier (IR), the US company that specializes in power management devices, expects its five-year development of GaN-on-silicon technology to move into the volume production phase around a year from now.

Mike Briere, who has spearheaded the "GaNpowIR" project at the Californian firm, told that IR s strategy would see prototypes demonstrated at November s Electronica show in Munich, with initial product releases to follow in late 2009.

The decision to use 150 mm silicon substrates means that IR s devices will be produced on the largest manufacturing platform yet seen for wide-bandgap semiconductors.

And unlike competing SiC technologies, IR s intention is to cover a huge range of commercially viable products, operating from 20 V up to 1200 V.

Briere says that choosing a CMOS-compatible approach on a large-area wafer platform of 150 mm silicon provides a huge commercial advantage over SiC:

"It is difficult to imagine a SiC-based technology providing the scalability in substrates, epitaxial materials or device manufacturing [to be] competitive with IR s GaNpowIR platform," he said.

Briere estimates that 1-2 per cent of all power electronics applications, a device market currently worth $7 billion, will be using GaN-based chips within five years of their production release by IR.

With some 1 billion square centimeters (equivalent to around six million 150 mm wafers) of silicon needed to meet today's demand for power devices, this level of penetration should amount to a monthly run-rate of at least 5000 GaN-on-silicon wafers, enough to keep perhaps half-a-dozen 7 x 6-inch reactors busy.

Briere expects the impact of the compound material to mirror that of IR s HEXFET technology, introduced in the late 1970s.

"The HEXFET platform enabled rapid adoption of switch-mode power supplies over the previous standard," he said. "It is unlikely that the current electronic infrastructure would be practically feasible without [their] widespread use."

GaN technology, added Briere, was "far superior" to even state-of-the-art silicon for high-frequency, high-density, highly efficient power conversion:

"It is reasonable to expect this new platform to be a real game-changer in power electronics."

The applications for GaN-on-silicon devices targeted by IR range from lighting to audio, and from motor drives to AC-DC conversion.

One of the few areas not covered is very-high-voltage applications, although another compound material may yet take over from silicon in this niche: "SiC power devices will likely have a strong market presence for applications above 1500 V in the future," Briere conceded.

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