Wide Bandgap Comes Through Its Learning Curve

Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America



The first wide bandgap devices that entered the market were oversold due to investors, VC capital companies and other players hoping for a quick return on investment. Some said, for example, that gallium nitride devices would completely replace and improve silicon in every application. This of course was a dream.

Wide Bandgap technologies especially SiC have been established for some time in the RF power amplifier business adding value there. Meanwhile, many of us in the power electronics industry scratched our heads. Was it worth the risk to incorporate this brand-new technology in our designs? We wanted to be sure that WBG really was better than using alternative options whose benefits we understood.

Like all new technologies, time and experience has put wide bandgap technologies into proper perspective. Gartner illustrates the adoption cycle of a new technology using the “hype cycle curve,” which is shown in Figure 1 below. As shown, a new technology becomes visible to the market and instantly it rises on a peak of inflated expectations. This initial excitement plummets into disillusionment when the hype does not pan out. Over time, the technology proves itself and a more tempered rise in optimism plateaus into productivity – in other words, the technology is put to work.

Click image to enlarge

Figure 1: The Gartner “Hype Cycle Curve”

Silicon carbide devices, especially SiC rectifiers in PFC stages, were on the market before GaN, so they have passed through this cycle and are now mainstreaming. Today we have incredible SiC MOSFETS in addition to rectifiers, and SiC device suppliers are growing at double-digit rates, mostly due to the electrification of transportation.

It is my opinion that GaN is now emerging from the “trough of disillusionment” on the Gartner curve and is entering the productivity phase. Like SiC, GaN is being driven by the growing electrification of transportation. It is also showing benefits in designs ranging from DC-DC and AC-DC conversion to audio and more.

Wide bandgap devices are showing performance improvements in reliability studies and are attaining AEC-Q qualification. The verdict is in: WBG devices offer increased efficiencies, better power density and, in some cases, better packaging (or no package) in comparison to the silicon alternatives.

About six million units of electric cars are likely to be sold in 2022, according to Gartner. It is time to see what WBG semiconductor technologies can do for your new designs. The rewards vs. risks are finally clear. Now let us get busy innovating and improving based on what is possible.