The era of silicon technology is coming to an end, giving way to a new «material of the future ”- gallium nitride!
Anker recently introduced a tiny PSU. According to the company, such a small size of the device is due to a component that was used instead of silicon, namely, gallium nitride (GaN). The growing popularity of this transparent, glass-like material suggests that it may soon surpass silicon and reduce energy consumption worldwide.
Silicon has been the backbone of the tech industry for decades, but we’ve “reached the theoretical limit of how much it can be improved,” says Dan Qing Wang, Ph.D. at Harvard, who conducts research on GaN. All materials have a so-called “no-go” area, a direct consequence of how well they can conduct electricity, she said. Gallium nitride has more energy than silicon, which means it will be able to withstand higher voltage and current will be able to pass through the device at a higher speed. This is covered by Martin Kuball, a physicist at the University of Bristol who is leading the GaN energy project.
As a result, GaN is much more efficient than its silicon counterparts, which also makes it possible to reduce the size of devices based on it. It can help not only reduce the chargers, but also make the system use less energy. Replacing all modern electronics with GaN could potentially reduce power consumption by 10 or 25 percent, Cuball said.
In addition, gallium nitride withstands high temperatures better, making it suitable for use in highly corrosive environments. “In modern cars, all the electronic components are installed far from the engine to avoid overheating, but that can be fixed,” says Cuball.
By the way, this material has long dominated another area of production – in photonics. In particular, it is gallium nitride that is the source of the very “blue light” that is used to read Blu-ray discs. Tiny lasers a micron thick (1/100 the thickness of a human hair) can already be used to create a new generation of microscopes.
So why not just replace silicon with GaN? The answer is simple – a colossal industry that has been producing silicon-based technologies for a decade. Such a global transition cannot be accomplished overnight. In addition, new material has to be constantly tested for reliability. Wang notes that gallium nitride has its weak points, and it is worth investigating all of them before launching mass production of nitride-based carriers.
Anker experts assure that although silicon is cheaper than GaN, chargers based on the latter need fewer components to fully function, which makes both materials equal. Currently, many startups are working on the development of this technology, which means that in the 2020s, humanity will emerge from the silicon era and enter the era of gallium nitride.