Gate Driver for Phase Leg of Parallel Enhancement-Mode Gallium-Nitride (GaN) Transistors


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Virginia Tech


With a higher power rating and broader application, Gallium nitride (GaN) is a promising next-generation power switch. The current four GaN HEMTs in paralleled phase leg that can block 400 V and conduct 200 A current is very beneficial, thus making the protection method on a GaN phase leg an urgent topic. This thesis starts with an overview of shortcircuit robustness among silicon (Si), silicon carbide (SiC) and GaN devices. An approximately safe operation area (SOA) for a GaN power switch will also be determined. The various common shortcircuit protection methods are mentioned. Additionally, current research on a GaN semiconductor is summarized. Among all of the protection methods, desaturation detection is selected and analyzed through simulation and then implemented in a parallel enhancement-mode high-electron-mobility transistor (E-HEMT) GaN phase leg. With this desaturation detection feature, the GaN E-HEMT can be turned off as quickly as 200 ns, and in the worst case, 500 ns, during a shortcircuit test. The phase leg survived a series of shortcircuit tests with shortcircuit protection. For the proposed protection scheme, the best-case reaction time (200 ns) is similar to others in the literature, while the shortcircuit peak current and peak energy are higher. The worst-case performance of this design is limited by both the gate driver and the device shortcircuit robustness.

Due to the fast switching speed of the GaN HEMT, the false turn-on phenomenon caused by the Miller effect can be a problem. A shoot through may occur with one switch false turn on. The Miller clamp is added to the phase leg to improve its reliability. After the hardware was implemented, the Miller clamp was tested and verified through a double pulse test (DPT). Compared to the phase leg without the Miller clamp, the gate is better protected from gate voltage overshoot and undershoot. The switching loss is reduced by 20 percent by using a new gate driver IC with higher current driving capability.

The degradation effect of GaN power switches in different shortcircuit pulses was also studied. The device passes through the shortcircuit tests, but any degradation effect that may change its parameters and influence its normal operation characteristic need to be addressed. Several GaN devices were selected and characterized after several shortcircuit tests to observe any degradation effect caused by the shortcircuit.

The degradation test results reveal a "recovery effect" of the GaN HEMT used in this project. The parameter variations on threshold voltage and on-resistance recover to the original state, several hours after the shortcircuit test. The test results match with the conclusion drawn in degradation test conducts by other research groups that the parameter variation during shortcircuit test is negligible. Also, repetitively fast shortcircuit tests on the GaN HEMT show that the shortcircuit protection limit for this device under 400 V bus should be limited to 300 ns.



Gate driver design, Gallium nitride, Desaturation detection, Miller clamp, Shortcircuit robustness