One example of this technology is the GS6650x 650V GaN transistors from GaN Systems. These devices use enhancement mode GaN-on-silicon with a patented cell layout that enhances both the high current die performance and the yield. As a result, they support higher currents than SiC or silicon and allow for switching frequencies in excess of 100MHz. As well as their excellent electrical performance, they also have some novel thermal design features. Bottom-side cooling with low junction-to-case allows excess to be removed easily, especially in high power automotive inverter applications. GaNPX is a proprietary packaging technology that was developed to have a small 5.0mm x 6.6mm footprint with lower parasitic inductance and reduced thermal resistance than conventional packages. ROHM and GaN Systems are now collaborating on using the technology in next generation devices, demonstrating how important advanced packaging is in this area.
Qromis is a US-based start-up company that is using its QST substrate technology in the design of GaN power reference designs. This allows them to deposit thick, bulk-like GaN epitaxial layers onto 200mm wafers. The low defect rate that is achieved overcomes a major obstacle to performance and scalability. However, there are some challenges in migrating this to the automotive arena.
As EV and HEV need voltage ratings above 650V the buffer thickness required is greater. However, as the GaN and AlGaN epitaxial layers have differing coefficients of thermal expansion (CTE), there are challenges in achieving the higher breakdown voltage as well as the lower leakage levels. One approach to overcome this and achieve 900-1200V breakdown voltages would be to use thicker silicon substrates to avoid wafer warp. While this is possible, there are likely to be compatibility issues with some wafer handling equipment.
Once the thicker substrate challenge is addressed, then the device architectures required for lateral and vertical devices including rectifiers and monolithic and HV ICs will be possible. In pursuit of this goal, Qromis have collaborated with the IMEC microelectronics research institute in Belgium to build enhancement mode p-GaN power devices on their silicon pilot line. IMEC ported its p-GaN enhancement mode power device technology to the 200mm GaN-on-QST substrates in their silicon pilot line and demonstrated high performance power devices with threshold voltage of 2.8V.
As the thermal expansion of the QST substrates is very close to that of the GaN/AlGan layers, it has been possible to use standard thickness 200mm wafers to fabricate 900V to 1200V buffer devices. It is possible to deposit epitaxial layers that are more than 100 microns thick on the QST substrate, thereby enabling vertical GaN power switches / rectifiers that could be used in high voltage and high current applications. This approach would yield devices that would compete with silicon IGBTs, SiC power FETs and diodes on cost, removing a significant barrier to widespread adoption. As they use the AIX G5+ C system from Aixtron, the QST substrates from Qromis are fab compatible, eliminating handling problems.
The substrate can have epitaxial layers that are over 100 microns thick that would allow for vertical GaN power switches and rectifiers suitable for high voltage and high current applications where lateral GaN devices are utilised, competing with silicon IGBTs and SiC power FETs and diodes on cost. Qromis’ QST substrates are built using the AIX G5+ C system from Aixtron, resulting in fab-compatible standard thickness substrates for power devices.
GaN, AlN and LEDs
However, wide bandgap materials have more automotive applications than just power. For example, due to having a bandgap of over 6eV, aluminium nitride (AlN) is being used in alloy form alongside GaN LED devices. The combined technology is suitable for headlights and other lighting, such as cabin lighting, and has enabled 250nm ultraviolet LED emitters. Boron nitride (BN) is another wide bandgap material that is finding applications in substrates for high power electronics. It is additionally being used for fill plastics as it allows them to have reduced thermal expansion and higher thermal conductivity and well as electrical resistance.
Automotive-qualified wide bandgap SiC diodes and MOSFETs are now becoming mainstream and are to be found on vehicles that are in full production, where they contribute significantly to reduced power losses and increased operational efficiency. The technology is evolving and enhancement mode GaN MOSFETs offer very high switching rates and increase efficiency even further – up to 98%.
As substrate materials and manufacturing processes evolve then more device types will be possible including vertical and lateral designs. However, before this reaches the mainstream then certain packaging challenges and qualification issues will have to be fully addressed.