For the last year I have been following the RF Energy Alliance (RFEA) that is dedicated to presenting solid-state RF energy’s potential as a clean, highly efficient and controllable heat and power source. They envision a fast-growing, innovative marketplace built around this sustainable technology, contributing to quality of life across many applications. The non-profit technical association was founded in September 2014 by E.G.O. Elektro-Gerätebau GmbH, Huber+Suhner, ITW, NXP Semiconductors, Rogers Corporation and Whirlpool Corporation with other companies joining later. Along with fellow members, these companies standardize, promote and educate target audiences in solid-state RF energy systems as heating and power generators.
One of the largest markets that could benefit from solid-state RF power is the cooking/drying industry that currently uses less efficient and less reliable magnetrons. There are 70 million microwave ovens sold globally each year so this is a very large market in itself. Microwave ovens with solid-state RF power sources can precisely control the amount of energy delivered to different parts of the chamber and dynamically adjust the power so that different types of foods cook evenly together in the chamber. It is envisioned that these new ovens would even be connected to the Internet and download recipes and cooking times automatically for various types of meals as the Internet of Things (IoT) reaches our appliances. There are also more than 11 million industrial drying machines sold each year so this is another large market with similar needs to cooking.
Other industries that could benefit from solid-state technology are automotive, medical and lighting. For automobiles, vehicle ignition and lighting could benefit from solid-state RF technology as more efficient ways to accomplish these functions saving money. In medical applications, RF technologies are already used for MRI imaging and tissue ablation with these markets expected to grow significantly in the next few years. Industrial lighting could be transitioned to RF plasma lighting that is more efficient than most current lighting technologies and appropriate for industrial applications.
One of the key technologies that would enable these changes is designing a highly efficient, low cost solid-state RF amplifier. A goal by has been set by RFEA, using 2.54 GHz as a standard frequency, to develop amplifiers with an output power of 300 W (CW) with better than 70% efficiency at a price point of $12 per module. This is a tall order but with improvements in LDMOS and GaN technology, it could be possible in the near future to reach these technical goals. With GaN going to 6 (and maybe 8) inch wafers soon and new high power plastic packages being developed, we could see a great price reduction in high power RF modules (listen to our previously recorded GaN technology webinar sponsored by Macom). The RFEA expects to create a RF amplifier specification by the end of this year and system integration guidelines by the first quarter of next year. We will keep an eye on these developments as we may all be using RF solid-state technology very soon.