Director of the Nanoelec/PowerGan program and key account referent at CEA, Raphael Salot details the issues and context of the program, in particular for preparing the next generations of 650 V converters.
From smartphones to kitchen appliances and e-vehicles, electric current and voltage must both be processed and controlled with the help of a converter to supply the optimal energy
required by each specific device. Power conversion, however, leads to energy loss. Gallium nitride (GaN) and other wide-bandgap materials can substantially reduce this loss. Until recently, these technologies were too costly to use in power conversion applications. But driven by the aeronautics and automotive industries in their quest for highly compact and efficient power converters at low cost, R&D centers are now pioneering new GaN techniques.
The aim of the Nanoelec/Powergan program is to strengthen and structure a national industrial and academic ecosystem to help stakeholders from French and European industry gain a foothold in a variety of sectors, ranging from personal electronic equipment to electrification of private and mass transport. Teams brought together through the program are contributing to the development of GaN-on-silicon (GaN/Si) technologies in order to overcome the technical and economic limitations of current power-component technologies available for the 100-650 V segment. Launched in 2017 and directed by Philippe Pantigny until November 2020, the program is based on a disruptive technology using 200 mm wafers compatible with mass production. This technology transfer is at the heart of the GaN/Si pilot line that STMicroelectronics is implementing in its factory in Tours, France.
We are improving the performance and reliability of first generation of 650 V components and preparing for the next generations. In order to further drive the miniaturization of systems, we are working on the architectures of disruptive converters. We are also developing tools and methods to co-design component and system architectures to accelerate technological adoption, especially for harsh environments such as automotive applications.
GaN power devices may be just around the corner. However this achievement requires more R&D efforts. Each architecture has its own potential, depending on the application targeted. Academic and industrial teams brought together within Nanoelec continue to explore various architectures in order to address the great need for efficiency at low cost, and, perhaps more importantly, the need for greener power electronics.