Gallium nitride (GaN) chargers: what is this technology used for?

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The chargers of tomorrow are coming! Built with gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors — which replaces silicon — these new models are compact and more powerful. Explanations…

It has surely not escaped your notice that chargers are becoming more and more powerful, but also paradoxically more and more compact. A technical and technological feat due to gallium nitride, also called GaN. A semiconductor that has been performing real miracles in the industry for a few years now, but which is currently developing particularly in chargers.

Gallium Nitride (GaN), what is it?

In summary, gallium nitride is a binary compound of gallium (Ga) and nitrogen (N). Like silicon, it is a semiconductor. It is to this compound, present in the industry since the beginning of the 90s, that we owe the blue LEDs, the fruit of the team of Japanese researcher Shuji Nakamura. It was in 2019 that we found the first traces of this semiconductor in smartphone chargers.

Exploded view of an Anker GaN charger.  The form factor of the motherboard is reduced thanks to the small size of the semiconductor with gallium nitride.  © Anker

Exploded view of an Anker GaN charger. The form factor of the motherboard is reduced thanks to the small size of the semiconductor with gallium nitride. © Anker

The operation of a gallium nitride charger is rather simple. As the manufacturer Belkin specifies for example on its site, the use of gallium nitride makes it possible to reduce the size of the chargers, because this component heats up much less than silicon; which allows the various components to be housed in less space.
This limited heating is due to a band gap almost tripled compared to silicon. Understand by this that this semiconductor has a much better ability to conduct electricity. It therefore handles high temperatures and high voltages much better. Thus, when the energetic capacity is 1.12 eV for silicon, it is 3.4 eV for gallium nitride.

Belkin BOOST↑CHARGE™ 30W USB-C Home Charger


Belkin BOOST↑CHARGE™ 30W USB-C Home Charger

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How the pricing table works

Anker Nano II 65W (715)


Anker Nano II 65W (715)

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How the pricing table works

Gallium nitride in chargers

These qualities make it possible to store more components in a more compact case and therefore to increase the power for the same size. Thus, a 65 W GaN charger is barely thicker than a classic 25 W charging block. This saving in space and weight is very important at a time when manufacturers are offering ever more powerful chargers. While we reach powers of 120 to 135 W, the chargers supplied with our smartphones are still silicon. But gallium nitride chargers are starting to make a name for themselves. Anker, Belkin, Ugreen or even Xiaomi have already jumped on this technology by offering blocks from 30 to 130 W. Obviously, the cost of this new technology is currently higher, and this is reflected in the selling price.

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For example, a classic Xiaomi 120 W charger, although already compact, is almost the size of a 100 W GaN charger… equipped with 4 USB ports (3 USB-C and 1 USB-A) ! The compactness/number of USB ports ratio is quite impressive, all in a 285 gram block.
At equal power, we can consider that a standard charger is about 40% larger than a GaN charging block.

100W GaN charger is practically the size of a charging pad

The 100W GaN charger is practically the size of a “classic” 120W charging pad, but it has 3 additional ports.

A distribution of power

In addition to these advantages, GaN makes it possible to offer chargers equipped with Power Delivery technology (better known by the acronym PD). A recharging protocol which is obviously not new, but which is not systematically present in the charging blocks. For example, on our typical charger, a 100 W Ugreen PD, two of the three USB-C ports can deliver such an output power — but when you connect more than one device, this power is distributed between the different devices. connected (see visual below).

© Ugreen.

What future for GaN?

Various analysts and researchers predict a rapid decline in the cost of products using gallium nitride. If the development is less expensive than with silicon, the final price of a charger is, for the moment, higher than that of a traditional adapter. At the moment, a 30 W charger sells for around 30 €, a 65 W between 40 and 50 €, and a 100 W can reach 80 €. The most expensive we could find (a 130W charger sold by Razer) is $180.

Insofar as smartphone manufacturers are selling fewer and fewer charging blocks with their products, we should not expect to see them participate in the development of GaN chargers. However, some are working on the subject, such as Xiaomi, which offers a first 65 W charger on its store. Apple also already sells GaN chargers for its recent 14 and 16″ MacBook Pros, as does Samsung with its 45 W block. But to accompany smartphones, brands still prefer to offer silicon blocks, increasing the power, rather only by reducing the size.

According to technology leader GaN Systems, 2022 is set to be the year where everything will accelerate. The new chargers arriving on the market will be even more efficient (more powerful, better performance, etc.) and will be able to meet the needs of consumers who need to quickly charge several devices.

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