Contest drives monolithic GaN designs

Contest drives monolithic GaN designs

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

A high voltage monolithic half-bridge with integrated drivers and control circuits in gallium nitride has won a leading power design contest.

The 2021 competition, backed by R&D lab imec and foundry Europractice, aims to encourage innovation in power electronics applications using imec’s Gallium Nitride technology for monolithic integration of power electronics circuits. 

The prizewinning project was developed by a team of researchers from the Chair of Integrated Analog Circuits and RF Systems of RWTH at Aachen University and will be prototyped in imec’s upcoming 650V GaN-IC Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) run later this month.

The winning circuit is based on a high-voltage half-bridge output stage, featuring integrated drivers and a level-shifter. Although multichip solutions combining GaN half-bridge ICs with integrated drivers and level-shifting are available from a limited number of suppliers, fully integrated GaN converters are not. The design proposed by the Aachen team features a very high level of integration for all GaN-ICs, integrating power- and control-circuitry, which eliminates the need for external controllers or drivers. 

Applications include non-isolated buck converters supporting automotive electronics in lower voltage systems for conventional or hybrid vehicles, or high voltage circuits for fully electric vehicles. 

Monolithic integration of GaN-ICs unlocks the full potential of GaN power electronics. Today’s GaN-based power chips have already pushed operating frequencies and efficiencies of Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPS) to record levels using discrete components.

The key to unlocking the technology’s full potential lies in reducing the parasitic inductances and imec has developed a GaN-on-SOI technology that allows to monolithically integrate logic and analog circuits with power components onto the same die. As such, parasitic inductances can drastically be reduced, resulting in a much-improved switching speed.  

To make GaN-on-SOI devices and circuits more affordable and easily available to its customers, imec offers a Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) solution through Europractice. This allows mask, processing, and engineering costs to be shared across multiple customer designs, typically delivering prototyping runs of 40 sample dies. 

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Proposals submitted by ESAT-MICAS from KU Leuven and Leibniz University Hannover came second and third. 

The design proposed by the KU Leuven team features an all-GaN direct AC-DC power converter IC, targeting large volume products such as mobile appliance chargers and adapters, as well as integrated power converter regulators for automotive and consumer electronics. 

The design from the University of Hannover takes advantage of GaN technology’s higher switching frequencies to enhance the efficiency in off-line converters for home appliances and lighting in the 200W power range;  

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