The Great Silicon Alternative

Chips made from

Every household is filled with dozens of silicon-based electronics, whose main component is usually a silicon-based transistor. But now, a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student’s invention could replace this technology with a new generation of transistors that will not only cut energy consumption but also work under extreme conditions.

Weixiao Huang has made a breakthrough by developing a new transistor that uses a compound material known as gallium nitride (GaN), which has remarkable material properties and may act as a better alternative to silicon chip.

The new GaN transistor would not only reduce the power consumption but will also improve the efficiency of power electronics systems in everything from motor drives and hybrid vehicles to house appliances and defence equipment.

“Silicon has been the workhorse in the semiconductor industry for last two decades. But as power electronics get more sophisticated and require higher performing transistors, engineers have been seeking an alternative like gallium nitride-based transistors that can perform better than silicon and in extreme conditions,” said Huang. The silicon-based transistor, also known as a silicon metal/oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor (silicon MOSFET), acts as a switch to convert the electric energy to other forms as required, allowing or disallowing the flow of current through the electronic device.

Huang is the first person to develop a new process that demonstrates an excellent GaN MOS (metal/oxide/GaN) interface, despite it was long known that GaN and other gallium-based materials have some very good electrical properties, much better than silicon.

According to Huang, his innovation, the first GaN MOSFET of its kind in the world, has already shown world-record performance. Also, his innovation has been shown that it can integrate several important electronic functions onto one chip like never before. “This will significantly simplify entire electronic systems,” Huang said. Huang has also designed and experimentally demonstrated several new novel high-voltage MOS-gated FETs which have shown superior performance compared to silicon MOSFET in terms of lower power consumption, smaller chip size, and higher power density. In fact, the new transistors can dramatically reduce energy loss.

“If these new GaN transistors replaced many existing silicon MOSFETs in power electronics systems, there would be global reduction in fossil fuel consumption and pollution,” said Huang.

Via The Times