Physicists from Aalto University may have unlocked the key to creating the next generation of power electronics. Thanks to revising old theories and in-depth investigations, scientists believe they’ve discovered a revolutionary new way to distribute large amounts of electric power.
It all comes down to a microscopic mechanism. This mechanism will allow semiconductors made from gallium nitride to be used in electronic devices. Beryllium atoms proved to be the key to solving this long-standing scientific puzzle. While gallium nitride is widely used in consumer electronics, it requires significant atomic manipulations to handle larger amounts of energy.
“There is growing demand for semiconducting gallium nitride in the power electronics industry. To make electronic devices that can process the amounts of power required in, say, electric cars, we need structures based on large-area semi-insulating semiconductors with properties that allow minimizing power loss and can dissipate heat efficiently. To achieve this, adding beryllium into gallium nitride – or ‘doping’ it – shows great promise.”
Beryllium doping was widely used in experiments back in the late 1990s. Scientists believed that beryllium would be a more successful doping agent than magnesium, which was regularly utilized — particularly in LED lights. Unfortunately, nothing came of these bold experiments and beryllium fell by the wayside in the quest for doping agents.
Further research has proved that those past experiments were not in vain. With some help from computer modeling and a few experimental techniques, it has now been proven that beryllium is quite capable of performing useful functions in gallium nitride. Depending on the temperature of the surrounding material, beryllium atoms will switch their positions. This means by heating or cooling the material, scientists can change the atoms nature to either donate or accept electrons as needed.
This is a tremendous step forward regarding efforts to use beryllium-doped gallium nitride in power electronics. If successful, we could end up with a whole new world of energy-efficient power electronics the likes of which we’ve never seen. But before that happens, scientists have to determine if the electronic properties of beryllium-doped gallium nitride structures can be fully controlled. Once that is determined, physicists will have a deeper understanding of these materials and their powers — and how they could change the world of power electronics forever.
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