The Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has received initial approvals from the government to set up a Rs 3,000 crore (approximately $467 million) foundry to produce GaN. The commitment recognizes that GaN is emerging as one of the most efficient semiconductors for next-generation strategic systems, including radar and communications.

The foundry is proposed to be developed around an existing facility for producing GaN transistors on silicon wafers, at the IISc’s Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE), under the leadership of associate professor Srinivasan Raghavan. 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.

“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,” Professor S. A. Shivashankar of the CeNSE said.

“The proposal to set up a foundry at the IISc for producing GaN is a good development. GaN 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 Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Solid State Physics Lab. What we need for strategic purposes is efficient energy consumption systems, and GaN conductors are the answer. Unmanned vehicles, for example, which are the future of security systems, are dependent on energy efficiency.”

Sharma added that with countries like China investing in a very strategic manner in semiconductor systems, India also needs to do so.

GaN is a wide bandgap semiconductor with unique electronic properties. It is tough and can operate at high temperatures at high switching speeds with power flows much superior to silicon. It is forecast to generate revenues in the range of $700 million by 2020, from the current range of $300 million, according to market estimates. Among the areas where GaN semiconductors 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.

“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.