Gallium Nitride’s (GaN) evolution from R&D to commercial deployment is the single largest technology disruption impacting the microwave and radio frequency (RF) industry today. GaN has made a clear and profound impact on system performance, size and weight across numerous RF applications, and has enabled system-level solutions that couldn’t be achieved with legacy semiconductor technologies – and its market potential has just begun to be realized.
The intersection of GaN performance with silicon cost structures is going to accelerate innovation across the RF domain, opening massive new market opportunities. Chief among them will be RF energy applications, which use controlled electromagnetic radiation to heat items or to drive all kinds of processes. Today, magnetron tubes commonly generate this energy. Tomorrow, it will be generated by an all solid-state RF semiconductor chain.
So what is “RF energy”? This is a buzzword in the RF and microwave industry today, often mentioned together with “solid state cooking,” “heating solutions” or “magnetron replacement.”
RF energy applications use controlled electromagnetic radiation to power different processes, replacing today’s commonly used magnetron tubes with a more efficient solution. RF energy boasts “an unprecedented control range, even energy distribution, and fast adaption to changing load conditions” (RF Energy Alliance). This technology holds limitless potential, and its market is expected to grow to $1.4 billion by 2020 (SunTrust).
One key target application for RF energy is the traditional microwave oven, today powered by magnetrons, a high-powered vacuum tube hosting interacting electrons with a magnetic field. Magnetrons have simple on-off functionality that controls the energy put into the oven, and average a lifespan of 500 to 1000 hours. Standard chain restaurants today use microwaves powered by magnetrons to heat customers’ food, and considering the number of dishes prepared on a daily basis, the magnetron-powered microwave has a very limited life duration.
With an RF transistor, microwave cooking can be radically transformed. The RF transistor generates hyper-accurate, controlled energy fields that are extremely responsive to the controller, resulting in optimal and precise use and distribution of the RF energy. Solid-state RF energy offers benefits unavailable via alternate solutions, including lower-voltage drive, high efficiency, semiconductor-type reliability, a smaller form factor and a solid-state electronics footprint. Perhaps the most compelling benefit is the power-agility and hyper-precision enabled by this technology, yielding even energy distribution, unprecedented process control range and fast adaption to changing load conditions. Additionally, the solid state RF transistor easily has a lifespan of more than 10 years.
Essentially this means that by using RF energy in place of a magnetron, we can enable solid-state, highly-controlled cooking in microwave ovens. A revolving disc within the microwave will not be necessary to distribute heat evenly. Instead, the microwave ovens can be programmed to target specific areas with varying amounts of energy, ultimately yielding more thorough, efficient cooking (watch video here).
So, for example, a dish being prepared will no longer have to be overcooked to heat the often-elusively-cold center, resulting in burnt edges—RF energy enables accurate control and monitoring of the power being distributed, delivering an evenly heated dish. Recently, MACOM demonstrated this with our 300W RF transistor in a solid-state oven (watch the video here).
Companies like MACOM are working with the RF Energy Alliance to develop new RF energy solutions to support this rapidly emerging market. MACOM’s GaN on Silicon technology offers the unique benefit of GaN efficiency at a silicon cost structure, ideal for enabling market-wide magnetron replacement to become a reality and providing the technical benefits of a significantly longer system life, constant output power and zone controllable heating. GaN-based microwave oven lifetimes are anticipated to be a 10x improvement over the current magnetron models.
Simply put, with the advances of technology today, the RF industry is enabling a more advanced, smarter kitchen for commercial restaurants and consumers around the world. This of course, is just one example! In our blog series moving forward, MACOM will highlight the various applications and immense potential the RF energy market holds for current and future generations.
All financial guidance projections referenced in this post were made as of the publication date or another historical date noted herein, and any references to such projections herein are not intended to reaffirm them as of any later date. MACOM undertakes no obligation to update any forward-looking statement or projection at any future date. This post may include information and projections derived from third-party sources concerning addressable market size and growth rates and similar general economic or industry data. MACOM has not independently verified any information and projections from third party sources incorporated herein. This post may also contain market statistics and industry data that are subject to uncertainty and are not necessarily reflective of market conditions. Although MACOM believes that these statistics and data are reasonable, they have been derived from third party sources and have not been independently verified by MACOM.