Silicon Gan but not forgotten

IBM engineers in a fabrication plant (fab)Hardly a week goes by without some boffin emerging from a smoke filled lab claiming to have found a replacement for silicon.

This week it is allium nitride (GaN) which could make data centres massively more efficient only this time its boffins have managed to create some actual product.

GaN was part of a $70 million research program by the US Department of Energy in 2013.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spinout Cambridge Electronics (CEI) has unveiled a line of GaN transistors and power electronic circuits. It claims to cut energy usage in data centres, electric cars, and consumer devices by 10 to 20 percent globally by 2025.

CEI co-founder Tomás Palacios, who co-invented the technology said it was an “opportunity” to change electronics and how energy was used.

CEI’s GaN transistors have one-tenth the resistance of such silicon-based transistors. This allows for much higher energy-efficiency. CEI is using its transistors to enable ‘power electronics’ that will make data centres less energy-intensive, electric cars cheaper and more powerful, and laptop power adapters up to one-third the size.

MIT researchers slashed costs by using new manufacturing technologies that switched gold metals used in manufacturing GaN devices for metals that were compatible with silicon fabrication. They also developed ways to deposit GaN on large wafers used by silicon foundries.

Cambridge Electronics researcher Bin Lu said that advanced GaN transistors and circuits where fabbed in conventional silicon foundries, at the cost of silicon. The cost is the same, but the chips have 100 times better performance.