How is the Energy Efficiency of Chips Evolving?

How is the Energy Efficiency of Chips Evolving?

With power-intensive applications on the rise, the semiconductor industry is looking to enhance the energy-efficiency of the chips.

FREMONT, CA: Technological advances have enhanced the capabilities of electronic devices. The increased capabilities demand greater processing prowess. This makes the energy efficiency of semiconductor chips a must. With energy efficiency, heating up of the device can be prevented, and the overall lifespan of electronics can be improved. Efficient power conversions are also key to reduce the costs incurred in powering connected devices. The semiconductor industry is currently adopting several techniques to develop energy-efficient chips.

Traditional approaches in chip design have always given precedence to performance rather than energy efficiency. Although energy-efficiency is also a design component, it invited less attention until very recently. With AI, 5G, and more such advances, the aspects of energy-efficiency can no longer be considered secondary. Therefore, the semiconductor industry is now turning towards silicon substrate alternatives. Silicon has been the mainstay for the semiconductor industry because of its favorable properties. However, from the perspective of energy, silicon has certain limitations; it cannot deal efficiently with high voltage.

Stakeholders are now adopting semiconductor materials that are more suitable in terms of energy efficiency. These semiconductors are termed as Wide BandGap (WBG) semiconductors and are able to function at higher switching frequencies in addition to minimizing energy dissipation. Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN) are two of the innovative semiconductor materials that are now experiencing a growing demand for power systems in the automobile and alternative energy sectors.

Variants like GaN-on-Si, when used in power transistors, are much more efficient than conventional transistors made out of silicon. With GaN, it is possible to use topologies that were not feasible earlier. The zero reverse recovery charge that GaN allows makes it a better alternative. Although highly favored, the infrastructure and the supply chain for the alternatives will take time to mature and come at silicon's level. Until then, the alternative substrates are expected to find wider adoption in particular niches and drive up energy efficiency.

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