It is well-known that the basic semiconductor material upon which the two gigantic inter-related sectors; namely, Semiconductors and Electronics lay their foundations is "silicon (Si)" primarily extracted from "silica (silica sand)". As research scientists and engineers conducted several experiments and carried out extensive research searching for an alternative substrate material in the place of silicon, several new substrate materials such as SiC (Silicon Carbide), SiGe (Silicon Germanium), GaAs (Gallium Arsenide), GaN (Gallium Nitride), Indium Gallium Phosphide (InGaP), and so on were discovered to exhibit similar and more favorable (application wise) properties as compared to pure silicon. Subsequently, during the past decade, GaN material production began on a commercial scale and semiconductor products, devices, and system manufacturers started developing GaN-based semiconductor and electronic devices. GaN was found to have 100 times brighter emission than other materials when used in LEDs and other opto-semiconductor devices, hence GaN was first deployed in the opto semiconductor market.
In the optosemiconductors segment, the first commercial large-scale production of GaN LEDs started in around 2001 when successful processes for using GaN as an epitaxy over silicon and sapphire substrates were developed. Since then, GaN has penetrated deep into the high-brightness and ultra-high brightness LED and lighting industry; with the industry leaders such as Nichia Corporation (U.S.) and OSRAM AG (Germany) launching new GaN opto-semiconductors every year. Most of today's blue, UV and white LEDs, and similar laser diodes that offer high light intensity and brightness emissions comprise GaN material.
The penetration of GaN was the first in opto-semiconductors in 2001, followed by power semiconductors (merging both, pure-power & RF-power semiconductors) in 2007. Commercialization of GaN power semiconductors (discretes & ICs) started at a medium scale in 2008. While the penetration growth rate is healthy and substantial in opto-semiconductors, the penetration rate in power semiconductors is explosive. One of the prime reasons for this is the growing application areas in the medium-voltage (200 to 1 KV) ranges, where GaN offers unique and unbeatable power efficiency over pure silicon. Another reason is the superior capability offered by GaN to handle high switching frequencies (>1 GHz), particularly for RF-power functions such as power amplification & switching in RF devices.
In power semiconductors, several transistors and diodes (& rectifiers) have been in the market since 2008, with extraordinary growth in the volume of power discretes (HEMTs, Diodes & Rectifiers and FETs) boosting the total revenue of the SiC power semiconductors market. Another factor for revenue growth was from GaN power ICs, where new power ICs such as MMICs and RFICs were launched commercially every year by industry players after extensive R&D efforts on developing new technologies to enable the same. The complete GaN power semiconductors industry has shifted to a mass-production scenario in 2011 with the success and revenue potential drawing the focus of several power semiconductor market giants.
GaN has turned out to be the choice for most of the power semiconductor applications and is quickly replacing the existing silicon technology. The various properties of GaN such as wider band gap, high break-down voltage, larger critical electric field, and higher thermal conductivity let the GaN devices operate at higher voltages, high switching frequencies, handle higher power density, and offer enhanced power efficiency than the pure Si devices. These properties allow the GaN discretes like Schottky diodes, MOSFETs, and the other advanced transistors to operate at much higher voltage levels, which are difficult for the counterpart Si devices. GaN power semiconductors also help in reducing the conduction and switching losses, thereby offering higher efficiency in electronic systems. The major application segments of GaN power semiconductors currently are the inverters (& converters), RF devices, power supply modules and motor drives being used across all the end user verticals.
In 2008, one of the market leaders of GaN power semiconductors, i.e. Triquint Semiconductor Incorporated (U.S.) offered the first GaN power device to the power semiconductors industry for RF-power applications. RF power industry players have set their eyes on developing several GaN power discretes and ICs customized with application specificity according to the desired features in several RF applications. GaN promises prosperous future in medium-voltage range RF applications. One of the major restraints in the growth of GaN devices is that the GaN devices are not suitable to operate at temperatures above 1000 Degrees C. Even at high temperatures exceeding 700 Degrees C, GaN power devices are observed to have reduced power handling capability, with droop in power-efficiency. To counter this, the industry has emerged with a solution of using SiC, an inherent radiation and high-temperature resistant tough material as the substrate in the semiconductor devices, thereby showing promising revenue for power devices with GaN-on-SiC structure.
The overall Gallium Nitride market revenue (including both, power and opto segments) stood at $240 million in 2011 globally, which is expected to cross $350 million by the end of 2012. The total revenue in 2022 is forecasted to cross $2.6 billion, at a CAGR of 21.92% from 2012 to 2022, over the time-span of ten years. Among the application sectors, the largest shares are occupied by the Consumer Electronics sector (due to LEDs and lighting), ICT (due to RF), and Industrial, Power, Solar & Wind Sector (due to power applications), together grabbing roughly 70% of the market currently with numerous upcoming applications such as consumer lighting, RF amplifiers, RF switching devices, power factor correction systems, power distribution systems, smart grid, HVDC, industrial motor drives, solar panels, photovoltaic inverters, wind power systems, and so on. The fast growing and upcoming application sectors are automotive and military, defense & aerospace sectors, with upcoming application fields such as electric & hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) in the former and electronic warfare, radar communication electronics in the latter.
Given below is an illustrative representation of the percentage split-up of the major application sectors in the global GaN semiconductors market in 2011 and the expected scenario in 2022.
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