Gallium Nitride Power Supplies - What is GaN and why are chargers so good at it?

Chargers with gallium nitride (GaN) are now offered by various manufacturers. The silicon alternative used in these power supplies and their chips has several advantages. For example, the loaders are more space-saving and lighter; They are also more efficient due to the lower generation of heat. Here in the blog you can already find articles on gallium nitride power supplies from AUKEY and Anker. The following is about the use of the material in electronics itself.

Chips with gallium nitride instead of silicon offer more performance and efficiency in a smaller size. You can find information about the fabric, GaN power supplies and chargers as pioneers here. (Image: symbol image / source: Unsplash)

Chips with gallium nitride instead of silicon offer more performance and efficiency in a smaller size. You can find information about the fabric, GaN power supplies and chargers as pioneers here. (Image: symbol image / source: Unsplash)

What is Gallium Nitride / GaN?

Gallium nitride is an odorless solid that is almost insoluble in water. The empirical formula or ratio formula is GaN. Gallium nitride is a semiconductor that is already used in optoelectronics, where it is used, for example, for blue and green LEDs and for violet laser diodes. The material is usually shown in crystalline, transparent, colorless form; but it can also be opaque, yellow, gray or white. Further scientific information as well as chemical data and pictures can be found at Wikipedia (German / English).

What are the advantages compared to silicon?

With regard to its use as a semiconductor in computer chips, GaN offers a larger band gap than silicon or silicon (Si). Expressed in numbers, Si offers a value of 300 eV at 1,12K. GaN offers a band gap of 300 eV at 3,37 K (Source). In practice this means that gallium nitride allows higher electrical voltages; ergo higher voltages. The current can also flow faster through GaN than through Si chips. 

For computer chips, this means broken down to the essentials: higher processor performance with smaller chips and less heat generation. This is an interesting development, especially for smartphones, but also for laptops, smartwatches and computers of all kinds. Not only are smaller or more powerful components possible with the same size, but also less energy loss - a higher degree of efficiency can be achieved.

What does this have to do with chargers?

Computer chips all well and good, but why are we seeing the use of the silicon alternative in chargers for the time being? Because it's pretty convenient to use here. Because where old chargers did not monitor the charge level of the battery to be charged, monitoring systems emerged over time, which throttle the current after charging half the battery capacity in order to protect the battery. 

With gallium nitride instead of silicon in chargers, this technology is improved while the supplied current increases per unit of time. Or to put it another way: With GaN chargers, the practical benefit is shown in the faster charging due to smaller hardware, but the same level of safety for the battery. This is particularly important for fast-charging components - for example for chargers or docks for the Apple MacBook with Thunderbolt 3.

Why is “old” Si technology still being used?

Habit and money are two sticking points here. Most infrastructures, manufacturers and peripherals are currently designed for the creation of chips and boards based on silicon. It may be a while before gallium nitride chips and boards become standard. Also because the changeover, including the procurement of raw materials, manufacturing processes and so on, means an expenditure of time and money.

GaN power supplies are currently small examples of how it works. It remains to be seen when the large industry for smartphones, computers, industrial electronics and so on will follow suit. Until then we can look forward to the AUKEY GaNFast or Anker GaN power supplies. If you are interested in these, please click on the links listed above. In addition, you can do that Anker PowerPort Atom PD 1 name (mini charger with 30 W).

You can also find an interesting article on the topic at The Verge (English), on which also Der Standard (German) refers. 

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2 comments

  1. Jürgen says:

    It's not that simple and the electrons don't flow faster through GaN either. In the case of a GaN FET, the gate capacitance is lower, which results in shorter switching times. You can take advantage of this by running a switching power supply at a higher frequency. And this makes the storage choke smaller - that is precisely the component that determines the volume of the overall circuit with its size and weight. Smoothing electrolytic capacitors are also larger than the ICs, they have to cope with the ripple current at a higher frequency.

    GaN-FETs are generally manufactured for 600 V. Such a component can be used when converting 230V to low voltage. The main part of a modern USB charger, however, is the control logic that the power supply unit uses to negotiate charging voltage and current with the smartphone. It runs with a maximum of 3,3V, so GaN technology does not help.

    • Jens Kleinholz says:

      Hello Jurgen! Thank you for your interesting additional information. As you can see: Here laypeople write for laypeople. 😂 So the storage choke is the thing that ultimately determines the size of the power supply unit. Learned something again.

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