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HexaTech awarded $2.2 million to develop AlN power electronics

The ARPA-E project will concentrate on using aluminium nitride technology to more efficiently control the flow of electricity across high-voltage electrical lines
HexaTech has received a $2.2 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E).

The cash will enable the development of a new power semiconductor technology for the modernisation of the electrical power grid, or "Smart Grid".

HexaTech’s high-quality AlN technology was identified by the Department of Energy as a transformational, breakthrough technology with significant technical promise.

The firm uses a proprietary process technology for manufacturing AlN crystals and wafers. Starting with inexpensive, commercially available AlN powder, single crystalline AlN boules are grown in custom built furnaces at temperatures exceeding 2000°C. The boules are then sliced into wafers, polished and tested.

Hexatech AlN wafer production process

Using very low dislocation density single crystal AlN substrates, HexaTech will develop novel doping schemes and contact metals for AlN/AlGaN with high aluminium content.

Baxter Moody, Director of Engineering says, “This contract marks the beginning of a technological leap in device performance and efficiency for power semiconductors. The development will enable a significant step toward producing 20 kV AlN-based Schottky diodes (SBD, JBSD) and transistors (JFET, MOSFET). The ARPA-E contract has opened the door for the material development and research to demonstrate AlN high-voltage, high-efficiency power conversion capability.”

For power systems and grid-scale power conversion applications, high efficiency AlN-based power devices will offer a significant reduction in size, weight, and cooling. Power semiconductor devices at this level are not currently available on the market. Experimental devices based on SiC technology are currently being developed. Compared to SiC technology, it is expected that AlN will enable power electronics with a ten times improvement in performance.

Based on the wide bandgap material properties of AlN, the critical field is six times larger, the on resistance will be lower, and the resulting power device area will be smaller for a comparable power level. This is a transformational technology that will revolutionise the power distribution grid.

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