Introducing The Term ‘Vertical Gallium Nitride’ with Dinesh Ramanathan, CEO & Co-Founder NexGen Power Systems

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TimesTech: Kindly share an overview of the key focus of your company, NexGen?
Dinesh: The key focus of our company, NexGen is to make the most efficient, smaller size, and lighter power systems in the world. Let me start off by explaining what a power system is?
All laptops have a power supply that we plug into the wall and charge the battery. Let me show you one such power supply – this is the power supply that my laptop is using in order to charge the battery that comes with the laptop. The size of this charger is determined by the switch that is actually in it. The switch is made out of a material called Silicon. We are all familiar with Silicon transistors. They are pretty much part of our everyday lives. What we have done at NexGen is, we have created a new transistor that is made out of a material called gallium nitride and that allows us to put significantly more power into this charger.
Let me show you the NexGen charger that has 240 watts worth of power in it. A traditional charger has 87 watts. When I put the two of them together, we can see that these are typically giving us three times more power in the same volume. This is what we do at NexGen. As the power becomes larger and larger, we can make these power supplies become smaller and smaller. And that is the real big focus of the company.

NexGen’s NexSys 240W adapter – the world’s smallest and most efficient PSU

TimesTech: How your company works on power transformation and how useful is it in today’s world?
Dinesh: Similar to what I explained now, these power systems allow us to convert the power from the wall socket into power that is used by all electronics. Also, it allows us to roughly use three times more power than what we have right now. The advantage of something like this is you can charge your laptops faster. The same thing applies to electric vehicles where an electric vehicle is nothing but a battery that’s running on wheels. With our technology, we could charge the electric vehicle battery significantly faster.

TimesTech: Benefits of gallium nitride and how is your company using this novel compound to offer next-gen solutions?
Dinesh: One of the properties of gallium nitride, especially the type of gallium nitride that we make at NexGen is slightly different from most of the other gallium nitride devices in the marketplace. The difference is, we can run this gallium nitride on high voltage devices at very high switching frequencies. It means we can turn on and off these gallium nitride switches at frequencies that are 10 times more than the frequencies that you run today. The devices in power supplies that I showed earlier are running at one megahertz switching frequency. The current devices that are made out of Silicon typically run at about 100 kilohertz. We are running 10 times faster and that is why we are able to shrink the size by roughly one-third when compared to what is available in the marketplace today.
In addition to having the gallium nitride transistor that runs at high switching frequencies, we also need to redefine the power supply. Because not all power supplies can scale with the current technology. When we introduce a gallium nitride device in a power supply, we have to re-work all the algorithms that go around that power supply so that they can all run at this high switching frequency as well. This is what we have done as a company. All this work in making the systems that go around the gallium nitride device is done in our Bangalore office in India. The vertical gallium nitride devices that we make are made in our factory in upstate New York.
Let me show you what a gallium nitride wafer looks like. A Silicon device that performs the same as this will be 20 times bigger than the size that I’m showing you. These devices go into the power supply that I showed you earlier. All the algorithms, the system design, the software, the hardware, the mechanical engineering, all that we have put together at NexGen is done in our R&D office in Bangalore.
In addition to that, we also manufacture this entire power supply with our contract manufacturer based out of Chennai and we ship worldwide from Chennai. NexGen is a unique company where we manufacture semiconductors in the United States while we build the systems in India and ship these world-class systems to customers all over the world.

TimesTech: I would like to know about the importance of vertical gallium nitride and your key focus and benefits.
Dinesh: Vertical gallium nitride is a unique technology. It is the technology of the future and it is what I consider will be prevalent and be the dominant transistor that we will see in the marketplace over the next 50 years. Vertical gallium nitride is a unique technology and our company has over a hundred patents on the way the gallium nitride technology is used and created. This technology allows us to improve the efficiency of power supplies significantly. It also allows us to reduce the size and weight of these power supplies. This is the contribution that vertical gallium nitride would make in this market.
Power supplies are used in laptop chargers, motor drives, electric vehicles, LEDs and are pretty much prevalent everywhere. Vertical gallium nitride technology will be prevalent and will be influential in all walks of life, especially where there is power conversion.
TimesTech: How far has your company reached and been successful in power transformation in India?
Dinesh: Most of the work related to power supplies are being done in India. This power supply is a state-of-the-art power supply and there is no such power supply like this anywhere else. These power supplies are designed and manufactured in India. The design happens in our NexGen office in Bangalore where we have engineers who do hardware design, software engineering, power electronics, mechanical engineering, validation and test and we put these entire specialities together to make the power supply. We also manufacture the power supply in India itself. These are state-of-the-art power supplies that are designed and manufactured in India.

TimesTech: Design advantages of using gallium nitride in a case where wide bandgap semiconductor designing cost is said to be much higher than traditional silicon?
Dinesh: This is what I call one of the myths in the marketplace. The common misconception is that the Silicon or the gallium nitride wafer is more expensive, as it runs on a much lower volume than the Silicon wafers run today. However, the die size of the device that we use is 20 times smaller than that of Silicon.
Since our devices are so much smaller, we actually get a lot more devices per single wafer. Our costs are relatively comparable to that of Silicon. Also, when we make the power supplies that are 50% smaller, we are using lesser material, lesser plastics, lesser PCB space and lesser potting compounds. All these things contribute towards lowering the cost of that entire system. This also means we are being as friendly as we can to the planet. Because, when these power supplies are obsoleted, we are not throwing away a lot of unnecessary materials as well.

TimesTech: Can you tell me about your company’s expansion plan in India?
Dinesh: The first product that we are making is a 240 watts power supply. Our technology is also set up in a way in which we can take two of these power supplies, combine them together and make a 500 watt, or three of them and make a 750 watt, or four of them to make 1-kilowatt power supplies. 2-kilowatt power supplies are what go into electric bikes and electric scooters right now. This technology is very scalable. Once the technology scales, we can take it in many different directions. Currently, we have a team that is working on the 240-watt power supply, and some of our led power supplies.
We expect the led portfolio to grow and expand dramatically. We expect this portfolio to grow and expand as well into various verticals, especially in data centres and in the automotive space. For that, we will be hiring and growing our team. We are looking for hardware engineers, software engineers, mechanical engineers, validation engineers, power engineers to come in and work together to create this platform of a power supply that allows us to scale from 240 watts to 5 to 6 kilowatts worth of power.

TimesTech: I would like to know your viewpoint on manufacturing conducted in India.
Dinesh: I fundamentally do think that semiconductors should get manufactured in India. The most recent semiconductor manufacturing scheme that has been put forward by the government is a good first start for attracting some semiconductor talent into the country. One of the things that people tend to forget about semiconductors is that we need a significant amount of infrastructure to be able to make semiconductors. This infrastructure includes having a fabrication facility. To state an example, our fabrication facility in upstate New York sits on a 66,000 sq ft facility with a 20,000 sq ft cleanroom. Cleanroom means an environment there are no dust particles or any kind of contaminants that can deposit themselves on the wafer. Even the smallest contamination can cause the wafer to not produce the type of parts that we are working with. We also need deionized water, vacuum, compressed air, and a bunch of basic infrastructures that we need in order to be able to set up a very simple semiconductor facility.
Also, the people who run the equipment that we put into the facility need to be trained. There is a lot of infrastructure work that has to get done. All these things typically require a significant amount of capital and expertise. The capital is what the government is subsidizing at this point in time. It is very important to make sure that the expertise gets developed inside the country and the best way to do that is to set up a small fab so that the total expense is not as high as setting up a bigger fab and then building up the expertise, training of the people, and then setting up a second one so that now we have a second factory that we can run with.
The program that has been put forward by the government is a very good starting point. However, the key point here is that it is not just capital, we should also make sure that we have skilled engineers that are capable of running the equipment, running the facilities and making sure that the processes are in place to actually produce the kind of transistors, semiconductor systems and integrated circuits that come out of these.