19 October 2021
Imec and EUROPRACTICE announce winners of 2021 GaN-IC technology design contest
Imec.IC-link (part of nanoelectronics research center imec of Leuven, Belgium) and the EUROPRACTICE consortium (which provides academic institutions and medium-sized companies with access to IC prototyping services, system integration solutions, training activities and small-volume production) have announced the winners of their 2021 GaN-IC design contest, which aims to encourage innovation in power electronics applications using imec’s gallium nitride (GaN) technology for monolithic integration of power electronics circuits.
The prize-winning project ‘High voltage half-bridge with integrated drivers and control circuits – all Gallium Nitride’ was submitted by a team of researchers from the Chair of Integrated Analog Circuits and RF Systems of RWTH–Aachen University. Proposals submitted by ESAT-MICAS from KU Leuven and Leibniz University Hannover came second and third, respectively. The winning designs will be prototyped in imec’s upcoming 650V GaN-IC multi-project wafer (MPW) run, starting in late October.
Monolithic integration of GaN-ICs unlocks full potential of GaN power electronics
The power electronics industry is looking for novel approaches to create higher-power, smaller and faster components that increase a device’s power density. To do so, companies could resort to using GaN technology, yielding power devices that show a higher breakdown strength, faster switching speeds, and lower on-resistance. GaN technology allows power devices to significantly outperform silicon-based power chips in terms of system performance and efficiency, physical space specifications and packaging costs. Also, it works at higher temperatures. This has aroused interest from a wide range of industry sectors – from automotive and consumer electronics companies to providers of data-center solutions.
Today’s GaN-based power chips have already pushed operating frequencies and efficiencies of switch-mode power supplies (SMPS) to record levels. Yet they are still mainly available as discrete components, while the key to unlocking the technology’s full potential lies in reducing the parasitic inductances. Imec has responded to this challenge through the development of its GaN-on-SOI (silicon-on-insulator) technology, which allows the monolithic integration of logic and analog circuits with power components onto the same die. As such, parasitic inductances can be drastically reduced, resulting in a much improved switching speed.
Lowering access barrier to imec’s GaN-IC technology
To make GaN-on-SOI devices and circuits more affordable and easily available to its customers, imec offers an MPW solution through EUROPRACTICE. In the MPW model, mask, processing and engineering costs are shared across multiple customer designs, typically delivering prototyping runs of 40 sample dies.
It is the same MPW solution that supported the GaN-IC contest launched recently by imec and EUROPRACTICE, targeting university teams that had never prototyped in imec’s GaN-IC technology before.
The winning projects
The team from RWTH Aachen University proposed a circuit based on a high-voltage half-bridge output stage, featuring integrated drivers and a level-shifter. Potential applications include non-isolated buck converters supporting automotive electronics in lower-voltage systems for conventional or hybrid vehicles, or high-voltage circuits for fully electric vehicles.
Although multi-chip solutions combining GaN half-bridge ICs with integrated drivers and level-shifting are available from a limited number of suppliers, fully integrated GaN converters are not. The design proposed by the Aachen team features a very high level of integration for all GaN-ICs, integrating power- and control-circuitry, which eliminates the need for external controllers or drivers.
The design proposed by the KU Leuven team features an all-GaN direct AC/DC power converter IC, targeting large-volume products such as mobile appliance chargers and adapters, as well as integrated power converter regulators for automotive and consumer electronics.
Finally, the design from the University of Hannover takes advantage of GaN technology’s higher switching frequencies to enhance the efficiency in off-line converters for home appliances and lighting in the 200W power range, which accounts for 60% of residential power consumption in the European Union (EU), helping to reduce power consumption.
Imec.IC-link is a complete ASIC solutions provider - serving companies as well as universities. Its services include design, chip manufacturing, assembly and test and qualification services. It realizes over 600 tape-outs per year across all of its supported technologies: CMOS, GaN-on-SOI, silicon and silicon nitride (SiN) photonics. Imec.IC-link is a TSMC Value Chain Aggregator, but also has long-standing relationships with other major semiconductor foundries. Imec.IC-link’s services are available worldwide, via teams based in Europe, the USA, China, India, Japan, Brazil and Israel.