GaN systems CEO sees bright future in automotive

 Tesla Model S electric vehicle Alt text/Description
GaN Systems CEO Jim Witham sees a bright future for GaN transistors in electric vehicles due to their high performance and design advantages. (Pixabay)

GaN Systems, which manufactures high power gallium nitride systems, is banking that the technology’s performance advantages over silicon will help capture applications in growing areas such as automotive.

“There is a lot of interest in areas such as industrial and electric vehicles,” said jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems, in a recent meeting with FierceElectronics in New York City.

Witham added that electric vehicles are a key market for GaN, whose fast switching and high frequency performance would make them well-suited to inverters and electric vehicles. Moreover, he noted a marked interest in electric vs. hybrid-electric vehicles, as fully electric vehicles have simpler engines.

Witham added that the trend towards electric vehicles is being felt throughout the industry, even by high performance vehicles such as BMW that have historically spent billions of dollars on research and development to maximize the performance of traditional internal combustion engines.

Because GaN allows higher operating temperatures and higher switching frequencies than silicon, it can reduce cooling requirements and allow the use of smaller heat sinks. Also, GaN allows the use of  smaller associated components such as magnetics and capacitors, Witham noted.

According to Witham, the sweet spot for GaN is in low to medium voltages, up to around 650 V, though he noted some GaN product vendors are trying to push voltages higher.

Besides automotive, Witham noted GaN transistors could also find a home in data centers, where using the transistors could potentially lower operating costs by reducing the number of power supplies needed.

For the future, Witham believes wireless charging could be an application for GaN transistors. “5G signals cannot simply penetrate through some building structures, so you’ll need to use a bunch of wireless base stations. GaN transistors can handle long distances and high amounts of power.”

“We’ll continue to push current higher and add more voltages, as well as achieve performance levels closer to figure-of-merit.”

GaN Systems can focus its efforts on research and development and not manufacturing because it is a fabless supplier. The company has long used Taiwan’s TSMC as its foundry supplier.