The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has received initial approvals from the government to set up a Rs 3,000-crore foundry to produce a “wonder” nano material, gallium nitride, that is emerging as one of the most efficient semiconductors for next-generation strategic technologies, including radars and communication systems.
The foundry is proposed to be developed around an existing facility for producing gallium nitride transistors on silicon wafers, at the IISc’s Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE), under the leadership of associate professor Srinivasan Raghavan.
“The proposal is currently at the highest level of the government. It needs about Rs 3,000 crore and is seen as a strategic-sector investment,” Prof S A Shivashankar of the CeNSE said.
The nano material Gallium Nitride, or GaN, is a superior alternative to silica-based semiconductors and is expected to generate revenues in the range of $700 million by 2020, from the current range of $300 million, according to experts in the field.
“The proposal to set up a foundry at the IISc for producing GaN is a good development. Gallium nitride technology will substantially help in the development of next-generation radars, seekers and communication systems, and will be useful in systems like Light Combat Aircraft,” said R K Sharma, the director of the DRDO’s (Defence Research and Development Organisation) Solid State Physics Lab.
The CeNSE facility at the IISc, which was inaugurated in 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is attempting to create an ecosystem of GaN electronics, including materials, devices and systems. GaN-based transistors from the CeNSE are already being sold to researchers in the country. The creation of a commercial GaN foundry would service industry demand for the emerging technology.
“What we need for strategic purposes is efficient energy consumption systems, and gallium nitride conductors are the answer. Unmanned vehicles, for example, which are the future of security systems, are dependent on energy efficiency,” Director Sharma said, adding that with countries like China investing in a very strategic manner in semi-conductor systems, India also needs to do so.
Among the areas where GaN semi-conductors can be used are phased array radars for electronic warfare, like AESA radars that are fitted on ultra-modern fighter jets.
The foundation for the development of GaN technologies was laid by the 2014 Nobel Physics Prize-winning work on blue Lighting Emitting Diodes using GaN, by Japanese-origin scientists Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura. The techonologies have also been used in blue ray information storage systems and are being utilised increasingly now in high-power and high-speed electronics.
GaN is described as a wide-gap semiconductor with unique electronic properties. It is tough and can operate at high temperatures at high switching speeds with power flows much superior to silica.
“In every device, be it a laptop, an AC, or an automobile, there are electronic circuits that have to handle very high power and voltages. It is these circuits that constitute the field of power electronics,” Prof Srinivasan Raghavan says in a section on GaN at the CeNSE website.
“The worldwide power electronics device market is $36 billion. As power consumption goes up, the requirement for power electronics will go up. So when you start working on GaN-based materials, you are looking at potential impact on a much larger power electronics market. What we have set up here in the IISc is a GaN platform where many of these things can mushroom,” he states.