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Infineon Gears Up for a Future Powered by GaN

March 13, 2023
Infineon is seeking to expand its power electronics ecosystem through an acquisition of rival GaN Systems.

This article appeared in Electronic Design and has been published here with permission.

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Infineon Technologies has agreed to buy rival GaN Systems for $830 million, in a bid to bolster its presence in a new class of power electronics shaking up markets where silicon has dominated for years now.

The world’s largest player in power semiconductors, Infineon said the deal would increase its presence in gallium-nitride (GaN)-based chips that promise to pay big dividends when it comes to power-supply efficiency and density. The agreement aims to boost the company’s GaN device lineup in markets such as mobile charging, data-center power supplies, residential solar inverters and other renewable-energy systems, and electric vehicles (EVs).

The deal brings together companies with highly complementary IP. GaN Systems brings to the table GaN power devices with voltage ratings of 100 to 650 V, which is widely rated as the upper limit for GaN, including automotive-qualified chips. Infineon sells consumer- and industrial-grade, 400- and 600-V GaN HEMTs based on its CoolGaN technology that it complements with its EiceDRIVER family of gate-driver ICs.

Infineon CEO Jochen Hanebeck said the all-cash deal will help to “significantly accelerate” its GaN roadmap in a wide range of markets, specifically when it comes to EVs and other high-power electronics.

GaN Gains

GaN belongs to a class of wide-bandgap semiconductors that are upending the world of power electronics. That’s because they facilitate higher power density at a given voltage and current rating than standard silicon MOSFETs.

Specifically, GaN has unique physical properties that enable it to handle 10X stronger electric fields and deliver higher power in a smaller form factor compared to silicon MOSFETs, which have been the industry standard for decades.

With smaller transistors and shorter current paths, ultra-low resistance (RDS(ON)) and capacitance can be achieved. That gives GaN the ability to turn on and off at a significantly faster rate (up to 100X faster) than regular Si MOSFETs while reducing power losses when switching on and off, which, in turn, keeps heat to a minimum. In addition, higher thermal conductivity pulls heat out of the die more efficiently than silicon.

The faster performance of GaN allows you to surround the immediate power stage in a power supply with smaller transformers, filters, and other passive components. Thus, it helps rein in costs at the system level.

GaN FETs, which Infineon currently offers to the likes of mobile-charging giant Anker and other customers, is enabling smaller mobile chargers that can supply hundreds of watts of power at a time—enough to speed up charging or even charge a laptop, smartphone, and tablet at the same time from a single power supply. The power savings enabled by GaN also have a positive impact on carbon footprint, said Infineon.

Power-conversion systems tend to feed electricity through several stages, with each stage taking a toll on efficiency. As a result, even small efficiency gains when converting electricity from one form to another add up over time, such as in a renewable-powered grid with battery storage or onboard charger (OBC) that converts ac to dc to revitalize the battery cells in EVs. GaN also potentially plays a role in dc-dc converters that translate one voltage level to another in electric cars, robots, or motor-control systems.

Furthermore, GaN is opening the door to new high-density switch-mode power-supply (SMPS) topologies, including hybrid-flyback (HFB), active-clamp flyback (ACF), and totem-pole power factor correction (PFC) that were out of reach with silicon.

The tradeoff is that GaN is not a drop-in substitute for silicon, and engineers are often forced to redesign power-conversion or distribution systems to handle the high switching speeds of GaN.

“Output” Power

Given the outlook for the GaN market, Ana Villamor, a power electronics analyst at Yole Intelligence, said it makes sense for Infineon to grow its product lineup and application-level know-how with GaN Systems.

The deal also signals that GaN has become a battleground for leading chipmakers. The GaN power-device market will grow more than 50% a year for the foreseeable future, rising to approximately $2 billion by 2027, said Yole.

As one of the largest semiconductor makers in the industry, Infineon has access to robust R&D resources and close relationships with major customers, which should give a boost to GaN Systems’ technology, long-term. GaN Systems is headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, and employs more than 200.

Jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems, said the deal also will give the fabless chip company access to Infineon's in-house manufacturing capacity. On top of its existing foundry relationship with TSMC, the tie-up with Infineon will help keep it a step ahead of demand for GaN power devices, he added.

The acquisition is the latest move in Infineon’s “doubling down” on SiC and GaN power electronics. Early in 2022, the company revealed plans to commit more than $2 billion in a new front-end wafer fabrication plant in Kulim, Malaysia.

The location will be prepared to produce wafers in the second half of 2024, adding to Infineon's existing production capacity for GaN and silicon-carbide (SiC) power devices. Since 2022, it also has been converting its Villach, Austria manufacturing site to fabricate SiC and GaN chips on 200-mm wafers.

Moreover, Infineon announced investments in a new packaging site for manufacturing power modules and a back-end fabrication facility, both of which are located in Southeast Asia.

“As an integrated device manufacturer with a broad technology capability, Infineon enables us to unleash our full potential,” said Witham.

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