Gallium Oxide Could Challenge Si, GaN, and SiC in Power Applications

Gallium oxide is a semiconductor material with a bandgap greater than silicon, gallium nitride, and silicon carbide, but will need more R&D before becoming a major participant in power electronics.

There may be a new player in the semiconductor world, and it comes in the form of gallium-oxide technology. The material could assume a key role in improving electric vehicles, solar power, and other forms of renewable energy, according to Uttam Singisetti, PhD, associate professor of electrical engineering in University of Buffalo’s (UB) School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He says, “We need electrical components with greater and more efficient power-handling capabilities. Gallium oxide opens new possibilities that we cannot achieve with existing semiconductors.”

The electronics industry is running out of ways to maximize silicon as a semiconductor, which is why researchers are exploring other materials such as silicon carbide, gallium nitride, and gallium oxide. Gallium oxide has poor thermal conductivity, but its bandgap (about 4.8 electron volts, or eV) exceeds that of silicon carbide (about 3.4 eV), gallium nitride (about 3.3 eV) and silicon (1.1 eV).

Bandgap measures how much energy is required to jolt an electron into a conducting state. Systems made with high-bandgap material can be thinner, lighter, and handle more power than systems consisting of materials with lower bandgaps. Also, high bandgap makes it possible to operate these systems at higher temperatures, reducing the need for bulky cooling systems.

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