APEC Brings Wide-Bandgap Devices into Focus



I don’t have to tell you, dear reader, how vital wide-bandgap semiconductors are to this industry. If you haven’t encountered them on your workbench or heard our PSDcast with PowerAmerica, a DoE institute tasked with promoting wide-bandgap devices, you’ll deal with them ad nauseum at the Applied Power Electronics Conference & Exposition (APEC).

Our March issue also focuses on wide-bandgap technology, primarily gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC), and with that topic playing such a prominent role at APEC, I’d like to highlight one of this month’s articles and briefly recap a particularly relevant PSDcast.

In a fortunate bit of timing, I had the pleasure of interviewing the CTO of PowerAmerica, Dr. Victor Veliadis, last month, wherein he discussed the institute’s efforts to accelerate commercialization of wide-bandgap technology in the U.S.

They do so with support from the Department of Energy and a five-year budget of $140 million (which began in 2015), and their mission is to address manufacturing gaps in wide-bandgap power technology to enable U.S. leadership in job creation, energy savings, and technological innovation.

Like most bleeding-edge technologies, wide-bandgap semiconductors face a cost hurdle. So PowerAmerica’s goal is to help enable high-volume manufacturing of these devices to the point where they’re cost-competitive with silicon.

"In order to get to high-volume manufacturing, you need demand, and to get demand, you need acceptance of these devices by power electronics engineers," Dr. Veliadis noted.

Wide-bandgap electronics must be as reliable as their silicon counterparts, and we also need suitable modules for these newer devices. You also need to educate the workforce in the use of these devices. For all the hullabaloo about wide-band semiconductors, the industry has a long and cherished relationship with silicon.

GaN and SiC are vital to the future of power electronics. And while Dr. Veliadis doesn’t think silicon will completely vanish, wide-bandgap devices will shine in high-voltage and high-frequency applications.

Meanwhile, on the print side, Alex Lidow with EPC discusses an important component of wide-bandgap technology in “It’s Time to Rethink Power Semiconductor Packaging.”

“When people think of wide bandgap power semiconductors, they are usually thinking of gallium nitride (GaN) or silicon carbide (SiC),” Lidow writes.

And while wide-bandgap devices will thrive in high-voltage applications, Lidow’s piece focuses on lower voltage GaN-on-Si power device packaging, because “that is where designers of power systems are most pressed to reduce system size, cost, while increasing efficiency and power density.”

Amongst other things, Lidow points out the advantages of GaN-on-silicon over the more traditional silicon power MOSFETs.

If you’re fortunate enough to make the trip, have fun at APEC! And be sure to check out our extensive coverage of wide-bandgap devices (including our PSDcast with PowerAmerica) at powersystemsdesign.com.

Jason Lomberg,

North American Editor, PSD