Article: Silicon is reaching its limit. What’s next?
This article by Marissa Lee on April 4 was published in full at BusinessTimes.com.
IF cities today are truly high-tech, why can’t we drive electric cars up to Kuala Lumpur on a single charge? Why are we tethered by a cable to a wall socket each time our smartphones run out of juice? Why is information wireless, but not power? The problem, some say, lies with silicon, the raw material of modern power electronics. It’s difficult to eke out further efficiency gains from silicon-based power systems, analysts say, because silicon is close to reaching the physical limits of Moore’s Law.
In the semiconductor industry, Moore’s Law guides innovation cycles. It refers to the expectation that a chip’s computing power should double every 2.5 years or so. Advancements in silicon computer chips have kept pace with this rule for the last 55 years, but cost is also a limitation, and it’s now more technically difficult to double the number of transistors on a given silicon chip or make its glass-like wafer any thinner.
To keep up with Moore’s Law, many traditional silicon power semiconductor companies have been actively developing new materials. One of these materials is gallium nitride, or GaN, a compound semiconductor formed by combining gallium and nitrogen into crystals.
Ng Geok Ing, a professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who conducts GaN research, says: “GaN is poised to revolutionise the semiconductor electronics industry. This is due to its attractive and unique material properties that make it well-suited for high-power, high-efficiency and high-temperature electronics applications.”
GaN is more expensive than silicon, which is the most abundant element on earth after oxygen. But GaN more than makes up for this by reducing costs on a system level by up to 20 per cent, says Jim Witham, chief executive of GaN Systems, a Canadian maker of GaN power semiconductors.
Read what Jim Witham has to say in the full article here.