In the face of climate change, the growing necessity to transition from traditional fossil fuels to using electricity as civilization’s primary source of energy demands an upgrade in the capabilities of power electronics. Power electronics are semiconductor devices that regulate the flow of electricity to make it usable for consumer and industrial applications.

While the need for power electronics to regulate electrical flow is increasing, the primary semiconductor material used in them, silicon, has problems keeping up.

“With the skyrocketing consumption of electricity, traditional silicon devices are approaching their material limits and cannot keep up with increasing demand for higher efficiency, frequency, power density and resiliency,” says Houqiang Fu, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. “Nearly 10% of all electricity in the U.S. is lost during conversion through silicon power devices, which is more than the electricity produced by all renewable energy sources combined.”

To handle the need for enhanced power electronics, new materials known as ultrawide bandgap semiconductors are under investigation by researchers in the field. Fu received a 2024 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award to explore the potential for one such material, aluminum nitride.

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