CEO Interview: The next generation of GaN power ICs

February 05, 2021 //By Nick Flaherty
CEO Interview: The next generation of GaN power ICs
Alex Lidow, CEO of Efficient Power Conversion (EPC) talks to Nick Flaherty about the potential for gallium nitride GaN devices as discrete power devices and with integration.

Alex Lidow is a third generation power engineer with ambitious targets.

“I’m third generation in power semiconductors, my grandfather and father founded International Rectifier. But I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, and went to Caltech and I fell in love with semiconductors there. Graduate school at Stanford in the 1970s was really the centre of the semiconductor universe. I remember I was walking to the Xerox room to copy technical articles and Fred Turman was there – he was a professor at Stanford that brought Hewlett and Packard together and creates the industrial park, and he talked about WBG semiconductors such as GaN back then.”

“So when I came to IR I wanted to do MOS devices, and we did. All the basic patents were in our names at the time. I’d been looking at GaAs but realised GaAs was not going to do it. In 2000 there was a group in Japan growing GaN on standard silicon, and I started that effort at IR but it was slow going. Reaching down as CEO to make something like that happen was extraordinarily difficult.”

“Having left [IR] involuntarily, I might add, we set up EPC to develop devices with higher performance and lower cost than silicon of the same power ratings,” he said.

The key is using the silicon manufacturing infrastructure to integrate other control functions on the substrate with a thin layer of GaN on top.

“We build all our devices side by side with silicon wafers in a foundry and the device is 15 to 20 times smaller than the equivalent silicon device. You can put functionality on the discrete device with almost no extra cost, a buck converter or motor phase controller in a fully integrated fashion,” he said.

Next: GaN integration

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