Chances are, you don't think a whole lot about the charger you use to power up your phone, your laptop, or electric toothbrush. You plug it in, it clobbers your gadget with electronics, and a little while later, you got a full charge. Simple, right?
Well, it turns out that the electronics industry is very interested in making a fundamental change to charging technology. To be specific, they're looking at moving away from conventional silicon, and switching to a new material called gallium nitride. But why would they stop using something so tried and true? To answer, we reached out to our friends at Anker, and we'd like to thank them for their insight.
So, like other electronics, chargers contain semiconductors, like silicon, that control current flow. And a semiconductor is a material that allows some electricity to flow, but not tons of it, hence the name. However, not all semiconductors are the same, and one of the main ways that they differ from each other is in something called a band gap. All a band gap is an energy range where no electrons can exist. Gallium nitride's band gap is nearly triple that of silicon's, meaning it can conduct electrons at higher voltages, but the band gap isn't so high that it turns it into an insulator, which can't conduct electrons very well at all.
Because gallium nitride chargers can use high voltages, they can conduct electrons about 1,000 times more efficiently than silicon chargers can. This efficiency gives them a few distinct advantages that are relevant to you and me.
- You can make a charger quite a bit smaller. So instead of having a phone charger that blocks the other outlets, or a laptop brick that weighs down your backpack, you'll have an efficient gallium nitride charger that can push a high number of watts.
- You might see chargers that are a little more versatile, as the more efficient nature of gallium nitride means that it'll be easier to make chargers that can charge multiple devices at once, or incorporate additional features such as multiple plugs for different countries, without taking up a ton of space.
- They should eventually be cheaper. Currently, the few gallium nitride chargers that exist on the market are more expensive than their silicon counterparts, since silicon is so widely available. Plus, they're subject to the dreaded early adopter tax, like most new electronics.
However, because gallium nitride is so much more efficient, manufacturers won't need as much of it to construct a charger, which will drive costs down to the point that they might be less expensive on average than today's silicon chargers. And it's not like gallium nitride is a completely unknown material that we can't manufacture in large quantities. Indeed, it actually started being used in a large scale in LED lights, way back in the 1990s. You also won't need a device that's specifically compatible with a gallium nitride charger to take advantage of these benefits. Thank God. And if you're a fan of fast charging, gallium nitride will be especially important, as its higher efficiency will allow fast charging to be deployed to more devices. Of course, it might be a while before we see gallium nitride chargers become just as common as silicon-based ones, but you can grab one today if you're willing to spend a little more money.
Some current chargers can push as much as 100 watts. So they might be worth it if you often need high capacity charging, but find yourself fighting space limits, like if you're that guy hogging every outlet inside the airport terminal.