Gallium Nitride (GaN) Chargers: What is this technology used for?

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Tomorrow’s chargers are coming! Built with gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductors – which replace silicon – these new models are compact and more powerful. Explanations …

Belkin BOOST ↑ CHARGE ™ 65W USB-C 2-port home charger



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It has certainly not escaped your attention that chargers are becoming more and more powerful, but also paradoxically more and more compact. A technical and technological achievement due to gallium nitride, also called GaN. A semiconductor that has performed real miracles in the industry for a few years now, but which is currently mainly evolving in the field of 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 this connection, which has been present in the industry since the early 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 on the motherboard is reduced thanks to the small size of the semiconductor with gallium nitride.  © Anchor

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

The operation of a gallium nitride charger is quite simple. As the manufacturer Belkin states, for example, on its website, 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 placed in less space.
This limited heating is due to a band gap that is 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 energy 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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Anchor Nano II 65W (715)


Anchor Nano II 65W (715)

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Gallium nitride in chargers

These features make it possible to store more components in a more compact suitcase and thus increase the power to the same size. A 65 W GaN charger is thus 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 increasingly powerful chargers. Even though we reach powers of 120 to 135 W, the chargers that come 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. It is clear that 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.

The 100W GaN charger is practically the size of a charging plate

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

A distribution of power

In addition to these benefits, GaN makes it possible to offer chargers equipped with Power Delivery technology (better known by the acronym PD). A recharging protocol, which of course is 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 provide such an output power – but when you connect more than one device, this power is distributed between the various devices connected ( see visually below).

© Ugreen.

What future for GaN?

Various analysts and researchers predict a rapid decline in the price of products using gallium nitride. If the development is cheaper than with silicon, the final price for a charger is currently higher than for a traditional adapter. Currently, a 30 W charger is sold 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.

To the extent that 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 65W charger in its store. Apple also already sells GaN chargers for their latest 14 and 16 “MacBook Pros, just like Samsung with its 45W block. But to accompany smartphones, brands still prefer to offer silicon blocks, which increases the power, rather only by reducing the size.

According to technology manager GaN Systems, 2022 is set to be the year where everything will accelerate. The new chargers coming 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 charge more devices quickly.

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