In the past few years, you’ve probably heard a lot about Gallium Nitride or GaN for short, when it comes to chargers. Many companies that make chargers and sell them on Amazon, have been using GaN for quite some time. And now bigger companies, like Apple are getting involved.
But the big question is, what is Gallium Nitride? And are GaN chargers better than the traditional Silicon chargers that we all know and love? We’re going to answer those questions and a bit more in this article. So here’s everything you need to know about GaN chargers.
What is Gallium Nitride?
Gallium Nitride is a material that really rose to prominence back in the 1990s, for semiconductors. This was done through the manufacture of LEDs. GaN was first used to create the first white LEDs, blue lasers and full color LED displays that you could see in the daylight.
Now, it looks like Gallium Nitride is going to be used to replace Silicon in a number of other areas too. Silicon manufacturers have been working for decades to improve silicon-based transistors. According to Moore’s Law, the number of transistors in an integrated silicon circuit can double about every two years.
Production of GaN transistors ramped up in 2006. Improved manufacturing processors meant that GaN would be manufactured in the same facilities as silicon transistors. That helps to keep costs down and encourages more silicon manufacturers to use GaN to produce transistors instead.
Why is GaN better than Silicon?
The biggest benefit that GaN has over Silicon is, power efficiency. GaN systems has explained this here:
“All semiconductor materials have what is called a bandgap. This is an energy range in a solid where no electrons can exist. Simply put, a bandgap is related to how well a solid material can conduct electricity. Gallium nitride has a 3.4 eV bandgap, compared to silicon’s 1.12 eV bandgap. Gallium nitride’s wider bandgap means it can sustain higher voltages and higher temperatures than silicon.”
Another GaN manufacturer, Efficient Power Conversion Corporation, stated that GaN is capable of conducting electrons 1,000 times more efficiently than Silicon, with lower manufacturing costs.
What this means is that with a higher bandgap efficiency, the current can pass through a GaN chip faster than a silicon one. That can result in faster processing capabilities in the future. Basically, in laymans terms, chips made with GaN will be faster, smaller and more power-efficient. Not to mention, cheaper (eventually) than Silicon chips.
What are the advantages of having a GaN charger?
The biggest advantage to having a GaN charger, for the user is, the size. GaN chargers are typically about 50% smaller than equivalent Silicon chargers. Which means that they will fit more easily into your bag, and not get in the way as much. A 100W GaN charger is sometimes smaller than a 5W silicon charger, which is insane.
Why is it able to be so much smaller? Well Gallium Nitride is able to conduct far higher voltages over time than silicon. So not only is GaN more efficient at transferring current, but it also means that less energy is lost to heat. That’s because components are more efficient at passing energy to your devices, and that will require less of them.
There are other benefits for using GaN as well. Like a higher switching frequency that enables faster wireless power transfer, and bigger “air gaps” between the charger and device.
Currently, GaN semiconductors are more expensive than Silicon semiconductors. But, because of the improved efficiency, there is a reduced reliance on additional materials. That includes things like heatsinks, filters, and circuit elements. One manufacturer has estimated that the cost savings is about 10-20% in this area. And that could improve even more once GaN semiconductors are produced on a larger scale.
And a benefit you may not think about is, a lower power bill. Since your charger is more efficient, it means that there’s less wasted energy. You won’t see a huge impact, and possibly not even any impact on your bill. But it does help us to be more green.
What are the best Gallium Nitride Chargers available today?
Anker was one of the first companies to really embrace Gallium Nitride for its chargers. And now it has many, many chargers that use GaN. But they aren’t alone. Here are three great GaN chargers that you can pick up today.
Spigen 40W Dual USB-C Charger
This charger from Spigen is a dual-USB-C charger, that can output 40W total, or 30W out of each port. Spigen says that this charger is about 40% smaller than most other 40W USB-C chargers on the market. It’s also cooler, and about 3.1x faster.
Anker Nano II Charger
Anker has a pretty impressive 65W charger that is made with GaN. This charger here is about the same size as the 5W charger that Apple shipped with its iPhones up until the iPhone 12 in 2020. Which is rather impressive. And it can be used for your smartphones, tablets and even laptops at this 65W speed.
UGREEN Nexode 100W USB-C Charger
Now, UGREEN has also been quick to the GaN trend. This is the Nexode 100W charger, and it has three USB-C ports along with a USB-A port. It can do up to 100W from any of the USB-C ports, but the more things you plug in, the slower it’ll work. So do keep that in mind here.
Why do Silicon Chargers still exist?
As with everything, this comes down to money.
Because we have been making semiconductors with Silicon for so long, the cost is much lower than it is with Gallium Nitride. That’s because there’s not a lot of stuff being manufactured with GaN just yet. It’s mostly just chargers. Not to mention the fact that only a few charging manufacturers are producing with GaN right now.
Not many charging manufacturers are using GaN right now, but that is likely to change in the next few years. As more and more people want to see GaN chargers, among other things. And as more people start to realize the features of Gallium Nitride.
Can GaN be used for more than just charging?
Gallium Nitride is not limited to just charging, that’s just where it has had the biggest effect so far. As mentioned before, GaN was primarily used with LEDs in the 1990s. Blu-ray players also used it as a GaN-based blue laser. The laser had a shorter 405nm wavelength, allowing it to read information closer and with better precision. That’s why Blu-ray discs can hold more information compared to DVDs.
Since 2010, GaN has been used in military applications. Being installed in active electronically scanned array radars, which allowed the US Army to field systems with better mobility and lower cost while requiring less personnel.
We could see GaN used in other chips, like the semiconductors used to power your smartphone or your computer. But that is still quite a ways off, and honestly, will likely be the last thing that GaN is used for. Most things will make the transition over to GaN from Silicon though, the question is just, how long will it take.
Gallium Nitride is the future
It’s quite clear that the benefits of Gallium Nitride far outweigh those of Silicon. Really the only thing standing in the way right now, is the cost to manufacture. But we’ve already seen some of the bigger players in the tech industry start to move over to GaN for its chargers.
For example, Apple is using GaN for its charger that comes with the MacBook Pro 16. While it’s just one charger from Apple, that is a start, and a move in the right direction.
It’s a small amount of USB-C chargers on the market today, but that likely won’t last very long.