The U.S. Department of Energy has earmarked 70 million dollars for research into gallium nitride.
If this semi-conductor is adopted for lighting electronics and energy, it could cut world energy consumption by 25%.
Cambridge University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have set up research groups specifically to explore its electronic applications.
Since it was discovered midway through the last century that semiconductor materials can be used in the manufacture of electronic devices, a veritable technological revolution has taken place in the field of electronic applications, and this has meant a “leap forward” for society. Together with silicon and graphene (about which we have published two extensive articles in this blog), gallium nitride (GaN) is another “star” material.
The World’s Leading Research Centres Are Now Closely Studying GaN
Cambridge University has established a centre devoted to studying GaN (The Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride) since scientists are aware that this semiconductor will be a key material for the next generation of high-frequency and high-power transistors capable of functioning at high temperatures. This is only one of the group’s fields of research as many others are now opening up in collaboration universities and industries all over the world.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is also assigning considerable resources to GaN research. Tomás Palacios – chief researcher in the MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories – wrote his PhD thesis precisely about gallium nitride, one of the three materials he calls “extreme” and on which he is working with his research group (the other two being graphene and two-dimensional materials, crystals that are only a few atoms thick). The team’s aim is to develop applications for electronics which, beyond basic science, would have positive effects in technology and in the form of new products for society.
Gallium Nitride Can Withstand Ten Times Higher Voltage than Silicon
As Palacios (a brilliant young, award-winning Spanish scientist who was born in Andalusia) explains on the MIT website, gallium nitride is an “extreme” material because it can withstand ten times higher voltage than silicon, which is the basic material in most electronic devices at present. Thanks to this attribute, it is now emerging as an excellent candidate for new types of transformers (electronic power devices), such as those used in power networks to convert 110 volts into greater or smaller voltages.
Owing to its capacity to withstand high voltages, gallium nitride can be used for electronic devices that operate at a much higher frequency than those presently being produced. For example, mobile phones operate at frequencies of several gigahertz (GHz) and some wireless systems function at around 20, 30, or 40 GHz. Gallium nitrate would “accept” increases in these frequencies up to figures of several hundred, and it could even enter the terahertz range. Indeed, a prototype described as one of the fastest in the world has already been developed.
The United States Invests Seventy Million Dollars in GaN Research
Last May, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was assigning 140 million dollars for research into high-power electronic systems. Half of this budget was allocated for further study of gallium nitride and its applications. In this announcement the DOE cited a study, according to which adopting gallium nitride, for both lighting and transformers, could reduce world energy consumption by as much as 25%.
GaN-Based LED Lighting Systems Will Lead the Market
Nitrides have also made it possible expand the range of functioning of LED lighting systems and laser diodes into the ultraviolet spectrum, which has opened up new possibilities for the lighting sectors, telecommunications and electronic consumer goods.
An extensive and interesting monograph published by the Spanish Ministry of Defence (Tecnologías de semiconductores GaN y SIC – GaN and SiC Semiconductor Technologies) states that is it highly probable that, by about 2025, GaN-based LED lighting will predominate in the market and eventually replace the traditionally used technology of incandescent lighting.
Observatorio Tecnológico de Electrónica (Technological Observatory for Electronics)
The Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride: http://www.gan.msm.cam.ac.uk/