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The Advantages and Challenges of the Third Generation Semiconductors

Semiconductors are materials that can conduct electricity under certain conditions, but not under others. They are widely used in electronics, such as transistors, diodes, solar cells, LEDs, lasers and integrated circuits. Semiconductors can be classified into three generations according to their bandgap, which is the minimum energy required to make a semiconductor go from insulating to conducting.

The first generation of semiconductor is silicon (Si), which has a bandgap of 1.12 eV. Silicon is the most common and widely used semiconductor material, due to its low cost, high purity and easy fabrication. Silicon is suitable for low-power and low-frequency applications, such as computers, smartphones and sensors.

The second generation of semiconductor is gallium arsenide (GaAs), which has a bandgap of 1.43 eV. Gallium arsenide is a compound semiconductor that can emit light and has higher electron mobility than silicon. Gallium arsenide is suitable for high-frequency and optoelectronic applications, such as microwave devices, radar systems and solar cells.

The third generation of semiconductor is those materials with a wide bandgap, represented by silicon carbide (SiC), gallium nitride (GaN), zinc oxide (ZnO), diamond and aluminum nitride (AlN). The third generation of semiconductor materials has a wide bandgap, high breakdown electric field, high thermal conductivity, high electron saturation rate and higher radiation resistance1. These properties make them suitable for high-power, high-temperature and high-frequency applications, such as electric vehicles, renewable energy, 5G communication and industry 4.0.

MaterialBandgap (eV)Breakdown Field (MV/cm)Thermal Conductivity (W/mK)Electron Mobility (cm2/Vs)
Si1.120.31501500
GaAs1.430.4558500
SiC3.234901000
GaN3.43.31302000
ZnO3.4560200
Diamond5.51020002200
AlN6320
Comparison of physical properties of different semiconductor materials

Among the third generation semiconductor materials, SiC and GaN are the most promising and widely researched ones. SiC and GaN have their own advantages and different development fields. SiC has higher thermal conductivity and breakdown field than GaN, making it more suitable for high-voltage and high-temperature applications, such as power converters and inverters. GaN has higher electron mobility and saturation velocity than SiC, making it more suitable for high-frequency and high-efficiency applications, such as RF amplifiers and wireless chargers. The third generation semiconductor materials are expected to replace the first and second generation semiconductors in many fields and create new markets and opportunities. However, there are still some challenges and limitations for the development and application of the third generation semiconductors, such as stability, cost and manufacture. The future of the third generation semiconductors remains to be seen.

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