Power Nitride Doping Innovation Offers Devices Enabling SWITCHES
The projects that comprise ARPA-E’s PNDIODES (Power Nitride Doping Innovation Offers Devices Enabling SWITCHES) program seek to develop transformational advances in the process of selective area doping in the wide-bandgap (WBG) semiconductor, gallium nitride (GaN), and its alloys. Wide-bandgap semiconductors have applications similar to today’s popular semiconductors, such as silicon and gallium arsenide, but with properties that allow them to operate at much higher voltages, frequencies and temperatures than these traditional materials. These qualities inherent to WBGs stand to enable high-power, high-performance power conversion hardware for a broad range of applications, including consumer electronics, the electricity grid, power supplies, solar and wind power, automotive, ship propulsion, and aerospace.
The doping process, the challenge central to the PNDIODES program, consists of adding a specific impurity to a semiconductor to change its electrical properties—altering its physical makeup to achieve performance characteristics that are useful for electronics. Developing a reliable and usable doping process that can be applied to specific regions of the semiconductor gallium nitride and its alloys remains an important obstacle in the fabrication of power electronics devices using this technology.
The PNDIODES program is an extension of ARPA-E’s SWITCHES (Strategies for Wide-Bandgap, Inexpensive Transistors for Controlling High-Efficiency Systems) program, seeking to fill technological gaps in the area of selective area doping, further advancing the field by addressing the problem of producing sufficiently high quality and reliably doped regions in GaN and its alloys to create viable high-power, high-performance transistors.
Electricity accounted for 39% of primary energy consumption in the United States in 2015. Power electronics, devices that convert electricity into a form that is more useful to a given device, are projected to play a significant and growing role in the delivery of this electricity. It has been estimated that as much as 80% of electricity could pass through power electronics between generation and consumption by 2030. In contrast, just 30% of electrical energy passed through power electronics converters in 2005. Technical advances in power electronics promise enormous energy efficiency gains throughout the United States economy. Achieving high power conversion efficiency in these systems, however, requires low-loss power semiconductor switches. Today’s dominant power semiconductor switch technology is silicon based, which becomes much less efficient as power demands are increased. Power converters based on GaN stand to overcome these inherent inefficiencies by enabling higher voltage devices with drastically improved efficiency—while also dramatically reducing size and weight and allowing for new form factors.
If successful, PNDIODES projects will enable further development of a revolutionary new class of power converters suitable for applications across the power sector and the U.S. economy at large.
More energy efficient power electronics could improve the efficiency of the U.S. power sector. They could also significantly improve the reliability and security of the electrical grid.
More efficient power use may help reduce power-related emissions. Low-cost and highly efficient power electronics could also lead to increased adoption of electric and hybrid-electric vehicles and greater integration of renewable power sources into the grid.
Improved power electronics could yield up to a 20% reduction in U.S. electricity consumption, saving American families and businesses money on their power bills.