Silicon Compatible GaN Power Electronics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Engineering


Power electronics are seldom seen, yet our daily lives would be very different without them. Power electronics are crucial to improving the battery life of a mobile phone & to maximising the efficiency of high-voltage transmission lines. They are found in railways & hybrid cars, in TVs & energy efficient lighting. Although not perhaps obvious, power electronics are vital to meeting the CO2 reduction targets set by Government. The use of these technologies in the control of electrical machines in factories is predicted to save up to 9% of total electrical energy consumption in the UK. In addition, power electronics are going to be key to controlling the renewable energy sources of the future low carbon economy, which will be producing 30% of our energy by 2020.
With a predicted 50% improvement in energy efficiency over current silicon devices, transistors produced from gallium nitride (the same semiconductor material used in low energy LEDs) have the potential to revolutionise power electronics. By working together, research teams from the Universities of Glasgow, Cambridge, Nottingham, Liverpool, Bristol, Sheffield & Manchester will develop & prototype highly efficient, gallium nitride power electronics devices with world-leading performance. Critically, routes to manufacture in a silicon wafer fabrication facility will be developed. Making these step changes is an outstanding opportunity for the 19 silicon manufacturing facilities in the UK, as the global power electronics market is currently worth £135 billion, & growing at a rate of 10% per annum. The outcomes will also underpin next generation applications in high-value manufacturing sectors including traditional UK strengths such as the automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics, lighting, healthcare & energy industries. .
Not surprisingly, global competition in the area of gallium nitride power electronics is fierce, & a number of high profile research projects have recently been established in Europe, the US & the Far East. This flagship UK project is a consortium of world-leading University research groups who together have the skill, expertise & critical mass to compete successfully against the rest of the world. To achieve our challenging goals, Cambridge, Nottingham & Sheffield will together focus on the growth & evaluation of gallium nitride materials on silicon substrates to produce the starting semiconductor wafers required for manufacture. Bristol & Nottingham will perform detailed simulations of device performance to inform the choice of gallium nitride materials & also the specific transistor structures for the various applications. Glasgow & Liverpool will combine expertise to develop procedures for the manufacture of gallium nitride transistors using "silicon friendly" approaches & then combine these processes to produce world-leading devices. Manchester, Nottingham & Bristol will evaluate the transistors in measurement systems which mimic the various real world applications for which power electronics are required. Throughout the project, there will be continual feedback between the teams to ensure that optimsied devices are produced.
For scientific, technical & economic reasons, a number of UK based companies spanning semiconductor wafer growth, silicon based power electronics device manufacture, & systems suppliers using power electronics components have aligned themselves with the project, keen to exploit the outcomes of the research.
By developing world-leading gallium nitride power electronics components using silicon manufacturing approaches, this project, which is directly aligned with the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council energy efficiency & manufacturing the future strategies , will deliver internationally leading scientific outputs & next generation technologies which UK companies will be in a position to quickly take forward thereby maximising both academic impact & economic benefit.

Planned Impact

Power electronics underpins the high-value manufacturing sectors of the UK including electrical drives, automotive, aerospace, industrial drives, healthcare and ICT. The GaN on Si research in this proposal is aimed at supporting the UK power semiconductor industry which is 6.5% of the world manufacturing base of £135 Bn pa by delivering technology that could provide savings of up to 9% of the annual electricity generated in the UK (i.e. 5 AGR nuclear reactors) and £1 trillion worldwide pa. The outstanding commitment of 10 leading industrial partners who have expressed support with a value in excess of £2M defines their view of the high level of commercial opportunities for GaN on Si technology to the UK and highlights the importance of the project to the future economic wealth of the UK.
Specifically, IQE, with its commercial GaN growth in Wales, believe the market opportunities for them in the area of GaN on Si materials will be at least $10M by 2020; NXP are committed to developing GaN on Si electronics and, based on a recent £16M investment in the area which has secured over 400 technically skilled jobs in high value manufacturing, establishing a commercial GaN power electronics production facility in Stockport/Manchester, are currently projecting annual sales revenues of around $150M by 2020. IR with its GaN growth and fabrication facility in Newport established further employment of 100s of highly trained employments. GaN Systems Ltd project employing 30 highly qualified engineers in the UK by 2020, and estimate an annual market potential of $200M. Semefab are of the view that they can capture a fraction of the market worth at least $10M pa, whilst Plessey predict the need to run with 4 growth reactors for their 150 mm production line, generating ~£100M pa in the coming 5 years. As stated by NMI, the project "is of vital strategic importance to our membership" and are committed to facilitate linkages with systems end users in the automotive, aerospace, consumer and energy sectors where the UK has significant strengths. The capability to innovate has excellent potential to dramatically increase revenue generation. The relatively new emerging UK strength in renewable energy generation represents a rapidly expanding market opportunity for GaN on Si power electronics in both control and conditioning applications. In addition, DSTL are engaged in the project to assess impact in the military sector and have identified opportunities for strengthening linkages into key European programmes.
In line with one of the key BIS Power Electronics 2011 report recommendations, this project will enhance significantly the talent pool of trained scientists and engineers who can become future generation leaders in the area of power electronics. The project will train 12 postdoctoral researchers and at least 8 PhDs (contributed from the partner DTA accounts) during the lifetime of the project. In addition, numerous undergraduates and Masters students will receive high quality training through associated project work. We expect all researchers to work across the traditional boundaries of domain expertise, which a large, multi-disciplinary project of this type facilitates, exactly the type of skills required to succeed in modern high technology, high value industry. Research outputs will be disseminated via the usual academic channels, with the associated profile that international conferences and publication in leading journals brings, suitable IP agreements will be put in place to formally protect any valuable IP generated The advantage of already having significant UK industrial engagement is that the companies will have early visibility of emerging opportunities and so uptake of new technology should be rapid and efficient. This project will target devices and device structures at a TRL level 1-3 which will benefit the companies involved and the UK in economic impact via potential subsequent implementation in a commercial environment.


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Description It is a remarkable fact that only 33% of the electrical power generated by power stations, wind and solar farms etc is ultimately used in domestic, industrial and transporation applications. The rest is lost due to inefficiencies in the distribution system. Each time there is a conversion process in an electrical power delivery system - for example converting from DC to AC, or changing voltage levels ( mains to 12 V), enery is lost. (This is why the power adapter for a phone or laptop gets hot during use - energy is being lost as heat). This is a global issue, and the aim of the PowerGaN consortium funded by EPSRC was to develop and demonstrate transistor technologies with efficiencies that surpass those currehtly in use in power converters. The focus of the project was around the realisation of transistors use of gallium nitride, a high efficiency semiconductor material which has the potential to outperform existing silicon-based tefchnology solutions. The headline outcome of the project was the development of a transistor technology solution which had around 30% reduction in switching speed and therefore improved energy efficiency, as devices only consume power when switching, so if the switching process is more rapid, less energy is lost. Further, significant and profound understanding on mechanisms that limit GaN power electronics transistor performance were developed, and have been widely shared with the power electronics community.
An additional outcome of the project was that it catalysed a previously disparate research community in the UK in the area of GaN electronics into a functional, multi-disciplinary grouping which has led to a number of spin-off projects which have included both academic and industrial partners beyond the original project team.
Exploitation Route Further EPSRC funding. InnovateUK funding. By working with UK power electronic transistor manufacturers to validate the concept on some small areas of production wafers.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy,Transport

Description The activities in plasma processing are being marketted by Oxford Instruments Plasma Technology Ltd as part of their sales presentations on the capabilities of their semiconductor manufacturing tools
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy,Transport
Impact Types Economic

Description EPSRC Platform grant
Amount £4,325,358 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P00945X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2021
Description Public presentation for the school of physical sciences at university of Cardiff 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This presentation was part of a series of talks which is intended to expose the research activities at the university of Cardiff to a broad audience
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017