How the Innovations in Semiconductor Technology will Shape the Future of Electric Vehicles

It needs to go beyond producing electric cars to allow trucking and mass transportation to shift away from gas and diesel for the electric vehicle industry to make real progress.

Fremont, CA: A steady rise in electric vehicle (EV) sales have been driven by decreasing vehicle costs and more options from car manufacturers in recent years. It is expected that the number of electric vehicles on the streets will continue to multiply as governments continue to encourage clean energy and manufacturers will find ways to make their cars more accessible. Continued innovation in battery technology is a significant part of what makes this possible, driven by the demand for smaller, lighter, safer batteries that charge faster and last longer.

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Advances in battery technology will continue to improve efficiency and charging times, but it will not get us anywhere close to what is needed to make it feasible to "go green" for trucks and buses. For electric vehicles to gain any meaningful foothold in commercial transport, the burden of charging would essentially need to be eliminated, and a major breakthrough in semiconductor technology would be required.

Research has shown that due to properties that make substantially smaller devices in size and weight, with no performance downgrade, gallium nitride (GaN) is far superior to its Si and SiC alternatives. Not only are these systems smaller and lighter, but much cheaper to produce.

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Industry analysts believe that GaN is the future of semiconductors, but technological challenges have stunted its growth. Although a handful of companies currently manufacture GaN-enabled devices, their use has been restricted to applications below 650V by processing challenges - suitable for small electronics and laptop batteries, but not nearly enough to power a bus driving across the nation.

The notion of "on-the-go" charging is most notable for the electric vehicle market. Once GaN high-voltage devices are available, several applications for on-the-go charging may be just around the corner. For anything from washing the floors to stocking inventory, businesses with giant warehouses and distribution centers are now using robots, but even robots must take breaks to recharge. A reduced fleet may achieve the same or better outcomes by charging on the go.

Cars and buses that charge while waiting for a traffic light to shift could be a possibility in a matter of years, not decades, with the latest developments in semiconductor and battery technology. Although the semiconductor industry continues to reinvent itself at a much less rapid rate, GaN's pledge implies that the next big transformation is just ahead of us and that it will usher in a landscape of possibilities that we have only just begun to imagine.