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New semiconductor materials to cut losses by half for renewables, telecoms and lighting systems

December 15, 2010 // Julien Happich

New semiconductor materials to cut losses by half for renewables, telecoms and lighting systems

Six partners from the semiconductor and solar industries are joining forces in the NEULAND project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to explore new avenues for the efficient use of electricity from renewable sources. NEULAND stands for innovative power devices with high energy efficiency and cost effectiveness based on wide bandgap compound semiconductors. The project aims to reduce the losses in feeding electricity into the grid, e.g. in photovoltaic inverters, by as much as 50 percent – without significantly increasing system costs. This is to be achieved using innovative semiconductor devices based on silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride on silicon (GaN-on-Si).

The new semiconductor devices are also to be used in future in switched-mode power supplies for desktop and laptop PCs, for flat-screen TVs, servers and telecommunication systems with a view to likewise reducing energy losses in these applications by about half.  

The NEULAND project will run until mid-2013 and is headed by Infineon. The project will receive 52.6 percent of its funding, or approximately Euro 4.7 million, from the BMBF under the Federal Government’s High-Tech Strategy (“Information and Communications Technology 2020”, ICT 2020 program) as part of the call for proposals on “Power Electronics for Energy Efficiency Enhancement”.

Today SiC material is already used in Schottky diodes. During the last ten years, SiC Schottky diodes have significantly reduced losses in current and voltage conversion in switched-mode power supplies. They are used primarily in switched-mode power supplies for PCs or TVs, in solar inverters and motor drives. At present GaN material is used mainly in white light emitting diodes. Studies into the suitability of this material for power applications began in 2006.

The NEULAND research will reveal the applications for which GaN devices live up to or outperform present SiC devices in terms of reliability, ease of use and cost. This will pave the way for introducing the energy efficiency benefits of reduced losses throughout the consumer electronics spectrum.  

The project consortium brings together outstanding expertise in SiC and GaN across a very wide area of the value chain. Aixtron is represented as a provider of equipment for the semiconductor industry, and the SiCrystal and Azzurro companies as wafer manufacturers. The semiconductor device know-how will be supplied by MicroGaN and Infineon, and the experience in systems engineering for photovoltaic applications will come from SMA Solar Technology.

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