Aixtron SE, a provider of deposition equipment to the semiconductor industry, has become a partner in the European research project “UltimateGaN” (Research into GaN technologies, devices, and applications to address the challenges of the futureGaN roadmap).
In addition to Aixtron, 25 other companies and institutions from nine countries have joined the project to research the next generation of energy-saving chips based on GaN over the next three years. The goal is to make these power semiconductors available for a broad range of applications at globally competitive costs. The project thus makes an essential contribution to improving energy efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions.
With a funding of €48 million, UltimateGaN is one of the largest on-going European research projects in the semiconductor development realm. The financing comes from investments by industry, subsidies from the individual countries that are participating, and the ECSEL Joint Undertaking (Electronic Components and Systems for European Leadership).
Energy Efficiency for climate protection
Aixtron points out that worldwide demand for energy is increasing as more and more daily life applications are being digitized and electric vehicles are increasingly entering the mass market.
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Energy-saving chips made of materials such as gallium nitride play a critical role in converting electricity more efficiently than before. Such chips also minimize the CO2 footprint.
“Energy efficiency is one of the world’s most important factors in reducing the usage of limited energy resources. By developing intelligent technologies, we are making a key contribution to the global challenge of climate change. New materials and efficient chip solutions play a key role here. With this research project, we are creating the conditions for making innovative energy-saving chips available for many future-oriented everyday applications,” said Dr. Felix Grawert, President of Aixtron SE.
“Gallium nitride semiconductor devices are revolutionizing energy use on many levels,” explained Prof. Dr. Michael Heuken, Vice President Research & Development at Aixtron. “The research project opens up an enormous global market potential. It enables better performance and efficiency in a wide range of applications and significantly improves user comfort. Efficient operation of servers and data centers, fast and wireless charging of smartphones, data exchange between machines in real time, or lightning-fast video streaming become reality.”
UltimateGaN Developing Smaller, Energy-efficient chips at marketable costs
The objective of the UltimateGaN project is to develop innovative power and high-frequency electronics from gallium nitride.
For the research program, Aixtron is contributing its expertise as a supplier to the semiconductor industry and its expertise in the production of gallium nitride. The production of high-quality wafers using MOCVD technology, from which the chips for further research are cut in the next production step, is carried out on Aixtron equipment at the Infineon plant in Villach (Austria).
The research is now going one step further to develop the next generation of these highly efficient energy-saving chips for the mass market. The focus is on further miniaturization and the provision of these chips in high quality and at globally competitive costs.
The unique structure of GaN enables the achievement of higher current densities, which allows smaller and lighter designs that switch the current much more efficiently and can transmit at higher data rates more quickly. The result is a significant reduction in energy consumption: current losses are reduced by up to 50%.
Many applications requiring low energy consumption, compact designs and faster data exchange will benefit from these energy-saving chips. Energy efficiency of high-performance servers and other IT infrastructure devices will get an additional boost with the research project. The power dissipation will be considerably reduced due to the higher switching efficiency of gallium nitride (GaN) power devices. This switch efficiency translates to reduced electricity consumption and CO2 emissions.
GaN devices support the new 5G mobile communication standard and ultra-fast video loading for example and support real-time traffic flow control for autonomous driving. For industry 4.0, GaN devices also support easy communication between machines.
“With the UltimateGaN project, the project partners are making a significant contribution to the achievement of global climate goals and the next generation of wireless technology,” said Dr. Felix Grawert, President of Aixtron.
Research Focuses on Entire Value Chain
When looking to miniaturize GaN chips, the small and compact design and the complex technology required for the connections and casings create unique challenges. High current densities, the effect of electrical fields, as well as material stresses and stabilities must be taken into account.
For this reason, the research will take a holistic approach focusing on the entire value chain – from process development, design, assembly and packaging technologies to integrated system solutions.
The consortium from academia and business is therefore broadly based. UltimateGaN partners include 26 partners. From Austria, Austria Technologie & Systemtechnik AG, Infineon Technologies Austria AG, Fronius International GmbH, CTR Carinthian Tech Research AG, and Graz University of Technology are taking part. Imec is the one Belgian participant.
In addition to Aixtron SE, German partners include Infineon Technologies AG, Siltronic AG, Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH, Fraunhofer Society for the Promotion of Applied Research e.V., Chemnitz University of Technology, and NaMLab GmbH
From Italy the participants include Università degli studi di Padova, Infineon Technologies Italia, and Universita di Milano Bicocca. Eltek AS is the Norwegian partner. From Slovakia, Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava, and Nano Design SRO are participating. Swiss partners, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL and Attolight SA are part of the effort. From Spain, IKERLAN, For Optimal Renewable Energy, and LEAR and from Sweden, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden AB and SweGaN AB are taking part.
The project received funding from the ECSEL Joint Undertaking (JU) under grant agreement No 826392. The JU gets support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland.