Gallium Nitride Makes Progress As A Substitute To Elevated Lithium Prices

Highlights :

Lithium price breaking through the roof, Gallium nitride, a semiconductor used in LED light bulbs, could be the solution.

Since Lithium has become far too dear to afford, Gallium Nitride is being considered by many as a substitute. It not only offers higher energy density but also saves on weight. Tesla CEO Elon Musk will probably be pondering the question, as  even as traded lithium carbonate prices climbed 413 percent between January and December 2021. Lithium hydroxide prices rose 254 percent over the same period. S&P Global says those costs are expected to continue soaring through 2022, leaving open questions about how to create EV batteries with renewable materials in a cost-effective manner.

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Enter Gallium Nitride,  a chemical compound commonly used as a semiconductor in light-emitting diodes since the 1990s. Readers might recall reading about it as an alternative to mercury in thermometers as a non-toxic and environmentally friendly alternative to mercury. This is thanks to its low melting point.

Gallium is a soft metal in the same family as aluminum. It’s solid at room temperature, but just barely, with a melting point of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 Celsius) . But when combined with plentiful nitrogen, it becomes GaN, a rock-hard semiconductor material. GaN is no shrinking violet; a 2017 study from Shandong University in China, looking at GaN as an anode material, called it the “most studied III-nitride,” compared with similar conductors AlN (aluminum) and InN (indium), for example.

Navitas Semiconductor says that by making a simple swap—gallium nitride (GaN) for silicon—EV batteries could shed critical weight and also charge faster. It’s all because of the chemical and physical makeup of GaN compared with silicon, giving GaN larger capacity with less materials.

Till now, Gallium Nitride has mainly been exolored as a substitute for Silicon in electronics. Silicon has a narrow band (1.1 electron volts) and GaN has a much wider one (3.4 electron volts). The material can hold more electron-passing particles, which translates to more dense materials that can carry the same amount of current.

Navitas says in its materials that GaN is also a way that we could improve the traction systems in EVs that literally translate energy into the vehicle’s adhesion to the road. That means more movement with less energy, because less is wasted “spinning the wheels.” Indeed, it seems that GaN could do a lot more with less when it comes to EV semiconductors.

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