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Imec and EUROPRACTICE announce winners of 2021 GaN-IC technology design contest

Contest aims to stimulate innovation in power electronics, leveraging GaN technology to create higher power, smaller and faster components that increase devices’ power density

LEUVEN (Belgium), October 19, 2021 – Imec, the world-leading research and innovation center in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, and EUROPRACTICE announced today the winners of their 2021 GaN-IC design contest. The contest aims to encourage innovation in power electronics applications using imec’s Gallium Nitride technology for monolithic integration of power electronics circuits. The prizewinning project entitled “High voltage half-bridge with integrated drivers and control circuits – all Gallium Nitride” was submitted by a team of researchers from the Chair of Integrated Analog Circuits and RF Systems of RWTH – Aachen University. Proposals submitted by ESAT-MICAS from KU Leuven and Leibniz University Hannover came second and third, respectively. The winning designs will be prototyped in imec’s upcoming 650V GaN-IC Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) run, starting late October 2021. 

Monolithic integration of GaN-ICs unlocks the full potential of GaN power electronics 

The power electronics industry is looking for novel approaches to create higher power, smaller and faster components that increase devices’ power density.  To do so, companies could resort to using Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology, making for power devices that show a higher breakdown strength, faster switching speeds, and lower on-resistance. In other words: GaN technology allows to significantly outperform silicon-based power chips in terms of system performance and efficiency, physical space specifications and packaging costs. And it works at higher temperatures. This has raised the interest from a wide range of industry sectors – from automotive and consumer electronics companies, to providers of data center solutions. 

Today’s GaN-based power chips have already pushed operating frequencies and efficiencies of Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPS) to record levels. Yet, they are still mainly available as discrete components, while the key to unlocking the technology’s full potential lies in reducing the parasitic inductances. Imec has responded to this challenge through the development of its GaN-on-SOI technology, which allows to monolithically integrate logic and analog circuits with power components onto the same die. As such, parasitic inductances can drastically be reduced, resulting in a much-improved switching speed.  

Lowering the access barrier to imec’s GaN-IC technology 

To make GaN-on-SOI devices and circuits more affordable and easily available to its customers, imec offers a Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) solution through EUROPRACTICE. In the MPW model, mask, processing, and engineering costs are shared across multiple customer designs, typically delivering prototyping runs of 40 sample dies. 

It is the same MPW solution that supported the GaN-IC contest recently launched by imec and EUROPRACTICE, aiming at university teams that had never prototyped in imec’s GaN-IC technology before. 

The winning projects 

The team from RWTH Aachen University proposed a circuit based on a high-voltage half-bridge output stage, featuring integrated drivers and a level-shifter. Potential applications include non-isolated buck converters supporting automotive electronics in lower voltage systems for conventional or hybrid vehicles, or high voltage circuits for fully electric vehicles. 

Although multichip solutions combining GaN half-bridge ICs with integrated drivers and level-shifting are available from a limited number of suppliers, fully integrated GaN converters are not. The design proposed by the Aachen team features a very high level of integration for all GaN-ICs, integrating power- and control-circuitry, which eliminates the need for external controllers or drivers.  

The design proposed by the KU Leuven team features an all-GaN direct AC/DC power converter IC, targeting large volume products such as mobile appliance chargers and adapters, as well as integrated power converter regulators for automotive and consumer electronics. 

Finally, the design from the University of Hannover takes advantage of GaN technology’s higher switching frequencies to enhance the efficiency in off-line converters for home appliances and lighting in the 200W power range, which accounts for 60% of the EU residential power consumption, helping to reduce power consumption. 

About imec.IC-link: 

Imec.IC-link is a complete ASIC solutions provider – serving companies as well as universities. Our services include design, chip manufacturing, assembly and test and qualification services. 

We realize over 600 successful tape-outs per year across all our supported technologies: CMOS, GaN-on-SOI, Si and SiN photonics. 

Imec.IC-link is a leading TSMC Value Chain Aggregator, but also has long-standing relationships with other major semiconductor foundries.   

Imec.IC-link is part of imec, a world-leading R&D and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies.    

Our services are available for customers worldwide – our teams are based in Europe, the USA, China, India, Japan, Brazil and Israel. 

www.imeciclink.com  

About EUROPRACTICE: 

EUROPRACTICE is a consortium of research organisations that provides European industry and academia with a platform to develop electronic circuits and systems. For more than 25 years, the consortium has offered affordable access to prototyping and volume production services in a wide range of technologies, including ASICs, MEMS and Photonics. For future generations of engineers, EUROPRACTICE has provided CAD tools and a broad training offer ensuring the growing digital economy in Europe. The consortium consists of five partners, namely imec (Belgium), UKRI-STFC (UK), Fraunhofer IIS (Germany), CMP (France) and Tyndall (Ireland). Over the years, EUROPRACTICE has been supported by the European Commission, which allowed expansion into new markets and continuation of the high-quality service to more than 600 academic institutions and over 300 SMEs. 
www.europractice-ic.com  

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