CEO Insights

eGaN® Technology is Coming to Cars


Written by:

Alex Lidow, CEO and Co-founder of Efficient Power Conversion (EPC)

Automotive technology has entered a renaissance with the emergence of autonomous cars and electric propulsion as the driving forces.  IHS Markit estimates that 12 million cars will be autonomous by 2035 and 32 million cars will have electric propulsion according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Marklines.  Both trends translate into a large growth in demand for power semiconductors.  This is also happening at a time when silicon is reaching its performance limits in the world of power conversion, thus opening a huge new market for power devices based on gallium nitride grown on a silicon substrate (GaN-on-Si).


Why GaN for cars?

Over the past eight years during which GaN power devices have been in mass production, several large applications where GaN has significant advantages over the aging silicon MOSFET have emerged − LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), radar, 48 V – 12 V DC-DC conversion, high-intensity headlamps, and on-board electric vehicle charging.

One of the first applications anywhere for GaN transistors and ICs was LiDAR, prompted by the creative thinking of Dave Hall at Velodyne.  The idea was to trigger laser pulses so fast that the time of the flight of light of the emitted photons could be accurately measured, making it possible to rapidly measure distance within a few centimeters at distances of a few hundred meters.  Using a spinning disk with several solid-state lasers stacked parallel to the axis of rotation, Velodyne was able to create a fast and accurate digital point cloud, such as that shown in figure 1. Much to everyone’s amazement, this sensing technology, combined with cameras and radar sensors, was used by many to create prototype autonomous vehicles.

eGaN for Cars

Figure 1: LiDAR sensors using GaN FETs create a fast and accurate digital point cloud that is used by autonomous cars to identify surrounding structures and obstacles.


eGaN® FETs from EPC were the logical choice to use for firing the laser because the FETs could be triggered to create high-current pulses with extremely short pulse widths (See figure 2).  The short pulse width leads to higher resolution, and the higher pulse current allows the LiDAR system to see further.  These two characteristics, along with their extremely small size, make eGaN FETs ideal for radar and ultrasonic sensors in addition to LiDAR.


eGaN for Cars

Figure 2: An EPC2202 AEC-Q101 qualified FET is used to generate a 1.8 nano-second pulse (yellow trace) at a peak current of 26 A. The optical receiver pulse signal is shown as the blue trace.


LiDAR was just the start of a trend.  Along with the array of sensors used to provide input for navigating and controlling the vehicle, a new market developed for high performance graphic processors to integrate these sensor inputs, digest their meaning, and decide what commands to send to the self-driving actuators.  Fast processing speed being a key attribute, companies such as Mobileye (now part of Intel) and NVIDIA have introduced ultra-fast multicore processors.  These processors can gather, interpret, integrate, and make sense of all the inputs from multiple radar, LiDAR, camera, and ultrasonic sensors quickly enough to safely navigate our roads and highways.

Need for 48 V – 12 V Power Distribution Systems 

A cost of these high-performance processors is that they are very power hungry and put an additional burden on traditional automotive 12 V electrical distribution buses.  The solution to providing the high-power levels to these processors needed for automotive LiDAR systems turns out to be the same solution being applied to operate high performance gaming systems, high performance servers, artificial intelligence systems, and even cryptocurrency mining – implementation of a 48 V distribution bus, where current levels and wire sizes can be reduced by a factor of four.  Also, 48 V is the highest practical voltage for these applications because, given overshoot and various fault conditions, the voltage on the bus will stay below 60 V, avoiding the need for additional (and costly) safety measures.

The advantages of 48 V become even more evident when all the new power hungry electronically-driven functions and features appearing on the latest cars are considered.  For example:

  • Electric start-stop
  • Electric steering
  • Electric suspension
  • Electric turbo-supercharging
  • Variable speed air conditioning

These new functions and features are opening a large new market for 48 V – 12 V DC-DC converters.  Power can be generated at 48 V and converted to 12 V to run legacy systems and battery packs.

Superior Performance of GaN FETs and ICs

GaN FETs and ICs are the most efficient way to get from 48 V to 12 V as shown in figure 3.  GaN devices are many times smaller than a silicon power MOSFET, and many times faster [1] which leads to higher efficiency as well as smaller, lower cost peripheral components.  eGaN FETs from EPC are also on par with silicon when it comes to volume pricing [2].  Now the technology is taking the next step to wide-spread adoption by the automotive world by passing AEC-Q101 qualification testing.

Figure 3: The EPC9130 is a 700 W 48 V – 12 V DC-DC converter based on EPC2045 eGaN FETs. It has higher power density and higher efficiency than the best silicon-based converters. The eGaN FET-based converter also has the lowest cost bill of materials.

eGaN technology has been in mass production for over eight years, accumulating billions of hours of successful field experience in automotive applications.

AEC-Q101 Qualified eGaN FETs

EPC is offering its first two products that have completed AEC-Q101 qualification testing.  The products, EPC2202 (figure 4) and EPC2203 (figure 5), are discrete transistors in wafer level chip-scale packaging (WLCS) with 80 VDS ratings. These first AEC-Q101 qualified products will soon be followed with several more discrete transistors and integrated circuits designed for the harsh automotive environment.

Figure 4: The 80 V EPC2202 device passed AEC-Q101 testing. It measures 2.1 x 1.6 mm and has a pulsed current rating of 75 A.










Figure 5: The 80 V EPC2203 device passed AEC-Q101 testing. It measures 0.9 x 0.9 mm and has a pulsed current rating of 18 A.









The EPC2202 is an 80 V, 16 mΩ enhancement mode FET with a pulsed current rating of 75 A in a 2.1mm x 1.6mm chip-scale package. The EPC2203 is an 80 V, 73 mΩ part with a pulsed current rating of 18 A in a 0.9mm x 0.9mm chip-scale package. These eGaN FETs are many times smaller and achieve switching speeds 10 – 100 times faster than their silicon MOSFET counterparts.  Both products are designed for a wide range of emerging automotive applications including:

  • LiDAR
  • 48 V – 12 V DC-DC Converters
  • High Intensity Headlights
  • Ultra-high Fidelity Infotainment Systems

To complete AEC-Q101 testing, these eGaN FETs had to undergo rigorous environmental and bias-stress testing including humidity testing with bias (H3TRB), high temperature reverse bias (HTRB), high temperature gate bias (HTGB), temperature cycling (TC), as well as several other tests.  Of note is the fact that these wafer level chip-scale (WLCS) devices passed all the same testing standards created for conventional packaged parts, demonstrating that the superior performance of chip-scale packaging does not mean a compromise to ruggedness or reliability. These parts are produced in facilities certified to the Automotive Quality Management System Standard IATF 16949.

Conclusion: eGaN® Technology is Coming to Cars

Automotive electronics can now take full advantage of the improved efficiency, speed, smaller size, and lower cost of eGaN devices with the completion of the AEC-Q101 qualification testing of the EPC2202 and EPC2203.  Throughout 2018 there will be several additional 80 V parts undergoing certification, expanding the range of performance to higher currents.


[1] A. Lidow, J. Strydom, M. de Rooij, D. Reusch, GaN Transistors for Efficient Power Conversion, Second Edition, Wiley, 2014.

[2] R. Cortland, “Gallium Nitride Power Transistors Priced Cheaper Than Silicon,” IEEE Spectrum, 8 May 2015




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Nobody Likes Power Cords, Wireless Power is Happening


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I have yet to meet someone who likes power cords.

Take for example Keith. In figure 1 is a photo of all the power-related accessories Keith lugs around in his backpack to make certain he will be able to run his phone, tablet, and computer wherever he goes. What Keith and others may not realize is that the technology is available that can eliminate every one of these cords – today! So, why is it taking so long for wireless power solutions to become a household technology?

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Keith’s Cords

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Fact: GaN technology a more efficient semiconductor than silicon for the Data Center power conversion process.


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Over the past few decades, metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistors (MOSFETs) have largely been the staple source for power supplies. MOSFETs are silicon-made devices controlled by voltage that manipulate the supply’s electricity that come in the form of little black squares. They’ve become very prevalent throughout the semiconductor industry, but might see their mainstream status begin to wither.

Emerging the scene is gallium nitride (GaN), devices that are expected to become smaller, cheaper, and more efficient in the long run. Silicon-based semiconductors had voltage coming into a data center at 48V go through multiple instances of power conversion before finally reaching its on-board components, during which the voltage would shed energy at each of these phases. According to Dr. Alex Lidow, chief executive of the Efficient Power Conversion (EPC) Corporation, Silicon wasn’t fast enough to reach 1V all the way from 48V.

“So what we (as an industry) did was create a whole bunch of very expensive power supplies that get you from 48V to 12V, and another set of power supplies that get you from 12V to 1V,” says Lidow.  “And with gallium nitride, since it’s so damn fast, you can get rid of the whole intermediate bus and go directly from 48V to 1V.”


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Apple and Self-Driving Cars


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Three autonomous vehicle business models have emerged; Tesla wants to sell more cars, Uber wants to eliminate costly drivers, and Waymo wants to own the data. Apple will need to decide if they are going to follow one of these models or forge a unique path. In my opinion, Waymo is on the winning path.



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Four Ways GaN Technology Helps Save the Planet


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Gallium nitride (GaN) is a better semiconductor than silicon.  There are many crystals that are better than silicon, but the problem has always been that they are far too expensive to be used in every application where silicon is used. But, GaN can be grown as an inexpensive thin layer on top of a standard silicon wafer enabling devices that are faster, smaller, more efficient, and less costly than their aging silicon counterparts.

This breakthrough for growing GaN on silicon can be viewed as a means for the extension of Moore’s Law, a “law” that has run out of steam in the past few years due to the performance limitations of silicon.  However, just classifying it as an extension of Moore’s Law is proving to be too narrow a view of the impact of GaN technology on the way we live.  In fact, GaN is proving to play a key role in a radical shift in how we allocate our planet’s precious, and dwindling, resources.  Let’s look at four ways GaN — in end-use applications — is helping us be kinder and gentler on our planet.


Autonomous vehicles and the transportation revolution

Figure 1: GaN provides faster and more accurate LiDAR images than silicon

Figure 1: GaN provides faster and more accurate LiDAR images than silicon


LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) as a way to measure the distance between two objects has been around for over 50 years.  The way this technology works is that the LiDAR system flashes a beam of light and measures the time it takes for that beam to bounce off a distant object and return to the detector sitting next to the original light source.

LiDAR has become a core technology behind autonomous vehicles because it can provide a fast (virtually instantaneous) and extremely accurate 3D image (or three-dimensional point cloud) of the surrounding environment (see figure 1).  The reason LiDAR can paint such a fast and accurate image is that the lasers are “fired” by GaN transistors and integrated circuits.  The speed and accuracy at which GaN can fire the laser is fast enough to create high-resolution images needed for the fastest autonomous racecars.

Autonomous vehicles will become a reality, although the exact timeline is still uncertain.  When this happens, imagine the impact it will have on our entire transportation system and the urban landscape.  Individual car ownership will be a thing of the past, since we will be able to order a driverless car for the number of passengers and the range needed at that moment.  Parking lots will disappear, road congestion will be reduced, and, most significantly, traffic deaths will be eliminated.

In addition, the cost to the consumer for vehicle transportation will be significantly lower as less capital will need to be invested in a vehicle, and fewer taxes will have to be paid for transportation infrastructure.  We can assume that the majority of these autonomous vehicles will be electric, thus further reducing the stress on energy consumption, air quality and greenhouse gas emission.


Drone package delivery and the logistics revolution

Another type of autonomous vehicle that will reduce stress on our environment is the drone. As with autonomous vehicles, GaN-based LiDAR is key to autonomy with drones, but drones have a different challenge; they have limited range when powered by batteries.  Imagine the amount of traffic that would be reduced if all our small packages were to be delivered by drones.  This is not a dream – it is now possible, thanks to the ability to charge drones in mid-air using wireless power transfer.

Figure 2: Drone being charges from a small antenna driven by GaN transistors

Figure 2: Drone being charges from a small antenna driven by GaN transistors

Shown in figure 2 is a drone being charged from a small antenna driven by GaN transistors.  These low-cost and light weight charging platforms could be mounted on every street light, thus enabling drones to recharge as needed while on their package delivery missions.  These antennae can also be fitted with a battery pack and a solar panel.  In this configuration they can create long-distance trails of autonomous charging stations that could give access to the most remote and dangerous locations on our planet for critical deliveries of food or medical supplies.

Eliminating power cords

Wireless recharging of drones is just one example of our ability to transfer energy without wires thanks to the speed and efficiency of GaN.  On a broader scale, we are on the verge of eliminating power cords in the home using a technology called resonant magnetic energy transfer.  This technology was invented at MIT earlier this century and serves as the means for “cutting the cord” and freeing the home and work environment from messy power cords.

In figure 3 is a desktop that has been built with a low cost antenna just under the top surface.  Using GaN integrated circuits to achieve efficiencies similar to devices with power cords, this desktop is able to directly power an array of diverse electronic devices positioned anywhere on the surface.

Figure 3: Desktop built with low cost antenna under the top surface to wirelessly power devices placed on it.

Figure 3: Desktop built with low cost antenna under the top surface to wirelessly power devices placed on it.

Imagine this type of powered tabletop in your kitchen, or in the conference room at work, or in your living room powering your sound system and TV without wires.  A world without power cords would be more efficient – TVs, radios and illuminated artwork could be hung anywhere on the wall without the need for wall sockets and unsightly power cords. In addition, not having to “plug in” would eliminate countless electrical fires that destroy many homes and lives each year.

Making artificial intelligence and deep learning less harmful to our environment

We are experiencing a fast escalation of the demand for massive server installations to support big data, cloud computing, deep learning, and artificial intelligence.  According to Fujitsu, data center energy consumption accounts for up to 2% of all electricity use worldwide.  Even though there is no way the demand for computing ability can be reversed, computing can be made less costly to our environment by reducing the need for energy, and here is another major contribution of GaN technology.

Due to GaN’s high efficiency, we can contribute to the Open Compute energy consumption goal by saving between 10 and 20% of the energy used by data center server farms.  Additionally, significant energy savings can be harvested from the reduced need for cooling of these massive server installations.  Now, all we have to worry about is whether the computers will be smarter than humans!

Figure 4: GaN reduces the energy needed to run data centers, which are expanding rapidly due to the increasing demand for computing power

Figure 4: GaN reduces the energy needed to run data centers, which are expanding rapidly due to the increasing demand for computing power

GaN technology is enabling many new applications that were just not possible with silicon semiconductors.  Given above are just a few examples of how GaN technology is changing the way we live.  Efficient Power Conversion (EPC) was founded based on the goal of replacing silicon semiconductors with a technology that is far more efficient and lower cost to produce.  As it turns out, GaN is doing so much more than just saving money by replacing aging silicon components, GaN is enabling new applications that significantly reduce the resources we need to drain from our planet while making our lives safer, healthier, and more fun.


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