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Navitas’ gallium nitride tech could help EVs charge three times


A charging port is seen on a Mercedes Benz EQC 400 4Matic electric vehicle at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, February 13, 2019.

Mark Blinch | Reuters

Navitas Semiconductor, a company that makes technology for super-fast phone chargers, says electric vehicles are its next big bet.

“The same thing we’re doing at 50 watts for a phone or a tablet, we’re going to do that for 5,000 watts or 20,000 watts to fast-charge your your EV,” Navitas CEO Gene Sheridan told CNBC in a phone conversation.

With Navitas’ technology, an electric vehicle could charge at a consumer’s home in a third of the time it currently takes.

As an example: “It will take about 10 hours to fully charge a Tesla. You can say, ‘Well, that’s overnight. I’m sleeping. It’s no big deal,'” Sheridan said. “But there’s times when you don’t have 10 hours to get on the road.”

If that same new technology is used inside the electric car, the car’s range could be increased by close to 30%, or the size of the battery could be decreased by 30%, both advantages in their own way.

But we probably won’t see it in new cars until at least 2025.

What is gallium nitride?

Gallium is a chemical element on the periodic table and a natural by-product created in the refining of other metals, like aluminum. “For decades, there was no known use for this material,” Sheridan said.

But when gallium is combined with nitrogen into gallium nitride (GaN), it’s useful for the semiconductors that go into the charging units for consumer electronics devices. A GaN semiconductor operates up to 20x faster than silicon and makes it possible to deliver up to 3x more power and 3x faster charging in half the size and weight.

The technology is still relatively new, and not widespread yet because it’s still more expensive and requires customers to redesign their entire charging systems. But Sheridan explains that the cost will come down as scale increases.

“Now, it’s only 10 to 20% more expensive. Within two years, it’ll be the same cost or cheaper,” he says. “It’s a powerful chip. But to do it right, you have to redesign the whole power system around that chip and that requires a lot of new skills.”

Navitas works closely with its customers to help them make those changes.

“We actually are very hands-on with our customers. We create design centers — just for mobile chargers, just for data centers, just for EVs — to specifically help those customers design the entire next generation power system using our GaN chip, because we have experts on all the other stuff, not just the GaN chip, to help them do it. So there’s quite a bit of learning curve.”

In the last three years, Navitas shipped over 35 million units with its GaN technology to customers like Chinese smartphone brand and manufacturer Vivo, Dell and Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer Xiaomi.  

To get to this point, Navitas has raised over $100 million in several rounds of funding and is bringing in revenues of about $20 million a year. The…


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