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11 October 2007


Velox wins $2m ATP funding for 1200V, 100A GaN-on-Si transistors

Gallium nitride transistor and diode manufacturer Velox Semiconductor Corp of Somerset, NJ, USA has been granted $2m for a two-year project (starting in November) to develop high-voltage, high-current electronic components in order to further increase the fuel efficiency of hybrid vehicles. The funding comes as part of the final set of Advanced Technology Program (ATP) awards of the US Commerce Department’s National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST). Together with projected industry cost-share of almost $1.3m, total project funding should be $3.28m.

Much of the power loss in hybrid electric vehicles is due to the slow operation and high electrical resistance of silicon-based transistors in the inverter that converts the battery’s DC power to AC power for the motor, limiting the power supply’s efficiency.

The award will fund the development of high-voltage (600V and 1200V), high-current (20A and 100A) power switching transistors, based on Velox’s gallium nitride-on-silicon (GaN-on-Si) technology, that have much faster switching and much lower resistance than silicon-based transistors. In particular, the program will advance Velox’s efforts to develop new enhancement-mode field-effect transistors (FETs).

Such switching devices could not only significantly increase the fuel efficiency of best-in-class hybrid vehicles, says Velox, but also increase the efficiency and more than halve the size of power supplies used for consumer, laptop computer, industrial and telecom applications.

In Phase I, Velox will develop 600V, 20A GaN FETs for improved power supply applications. In the following phase, 1200V, 100A devices will be developed, which are suited to motor driver applications in the automotive industry.

Cornell University in Ithaca, NY will assist with device development, while Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY will provide modeling expertise. The National Transportation Research Center at Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee will help evaluate the devices for vehicular application. A successful product could provide a positive impact on the $14.3bn market for power diodes and transistors, says NIST.

“GaN-on-Si technology has attracted significant interest from researchers in the last seven years,” says CEO Thomas Hierl. However, major challenges in making GaN-based transistors now need to be addressed in order to produce larger electrical currents and to develop ‘enhancement-mode’ designs, he adds. Since being spun off from Emcore’s GaN Power Device Group in April 2005, Velox has already developed 600V GaN Schottky diodes for consumer and power supply applications that are in the final stages of development before the transition to production.

“The ATP funding will significantly accelerate GaN FETs development at Velox,” Hierl adds. “It gives us an opportunity to bring a second GaN-based product to the market following the introduction of GaN-based Schottky diodes, and we look forward to using the GaN growth and fabrication skills mastered on GaN diodes to advance the GaN-based FETs under this NIST-funded program.”

See related item:

STMicroelectronics and Velox enter dual source agreement

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