Charging Technology: GaN
What is Gallium nitride?
Gallium nitride (the chemical formula for this is GaN) is a crystal-like semiconductor material with special properties. GaN has been used in electronics for decades, starting with LEDs in the 1990s, where it was used to emit light to light TVs and computer displays before later finding its way into solar panels, where it was used to convert light into electricity.
Now GaN has found its way into transistors and is replacing the industry's previous favorite semiconductor material -- silicon.
What is a transistor, and why is GaN better?
A transistor is a tiny electronic switch that opens and closes really fast, and GaN has several advantages over silicon when used in transistors. Not only are GaN transistors smaller than silicon transistors, but they can carry more power, switch faster (around 40 million times a second, roughly four times faster than silicon transistors), and they are much more power efficient.
While silicon transistors have a power efficiency of around 87%, GaN transistors boost this efficiency to over 95%.
Gallium Nitride vs Silicon – Why Is Gallium Nitride Superior to Silicon?
Gallium Nitride is a binary III/V direct bandgap semiconductor that is well-suited for high-power transistors capable of operating at high temperatures. Since the 1990s, it has been used commonly in light emitting diodes (LED). Gallium nitride gives off a blue light used for disc-reading in Blu-ray.
Additionally, gallium nitride is used in semiconductor power devices, RF components, lasers, and photonics. It can be used to make smaller chips and, as a result, smaller transistors. GaN fast charges fast and can charge faster than silicon and can handle higher power levels, and, as a result, it's ideal for uses such as 5G radio and fast-charging accessories. Furthermore, because it is a superior conductor of electricity, it can withstand more power without overheating.
What are the real world advantages of GaN tech?
The reduction in transistor size means that newer GaN USB chargers can be physically smaller than the older silicon technology chargers. And while it's nice to have smaller chargers, it is the increased efficiency that is the most important factor when it comes to USB chargers because the more efficient an electronic component is, the less waste heat it generates.
And the less waste heat generated, the lower the chances of overheating and the less cooling that is required to keep the charger operating safely.
Consumers are, understandably, concerned when chargers feel hot to the touch. While it is common for chargers that use silicon transistors to get to the point of almost being too hot to touch, I find it rare for a charger using GaN technology to feel mildly warm.
The faster switching also means that a GaN transistor inside a charger can have better control over the charging and respond to events such as overheating or overvoltage much quicker than older transistors could.
This greater efficiency and faster switching are critical for modern USB-C chargers because USB-C carries even increasing power loads, with 100W loads now being commonplace and 240W chargers soon to be a reality.
Why Are GaN Chargers Better?
The GaN technology holds the key to the solution. Gallium nitride, sometimes known as GaN, is a semiconductor material that performs better than silicon. Most electronics are made out of silicon. Although GaAs is a good conductor of electricity, GaN is faster and more efficient.
GaN fast chargers feature a wider bandgap, which enables them to charge gadgets more quickly (Silicon has a 1.12 eV bandgap, while Gallium Nitride has a 3.4 eV bandgap). This indicates that less energy is lost as electrons transition between bands. Due to its wider band gap than silicon MOSFETs, gallium nitride can withstand higher voltages and temperatures. GaN chargers are superior to standard charges for the following reasons:
- Smaller Eco Footprint
- Faster Charging Speed
- More Energy Efficient
- Smaller in Size
- Cooler and Safer Charging