Silicon carbide is becoming an increasingly popular choice for design engineers looking for more robust semiconductor material options. With this recent boom in utilization, where is SiC heading in the years to come?
Silicon carbide is more than a niche technology, and recent investments by manufacturers across the globe showcase the importance of this emerging semiconductor. With the enactment of the CHIPS and Science Act, a significant portion of funds is dedicated to increase manufacturing for emerging semiconductor technology, including SiC. With this recent boom in utilization, where is SiC heading in the years to come?
While SiC has been used in electric applications for years — first as a lightning arrestor in electrical systems — its use as a semiconductor is much more recent. In fact, SiC didn’t gain traction as a semiconductor material until the early 1990s, when its wide-bandgap properties were leveraged in FETs and MOSFETs for high-power systems. Today, with the proliferation of technologies requiring power components that can withstand significant voltages, temperatures, and high-speed switching frequencies, SiC is becoming an increasingly popular choice for design engineers looking for more robust semiconductor material options.
EE Times recently sat down with Orlando Esparza, an engineer and senior manager for SiC Power Solutions at Microchip Technology, as well as Zachariah Wendt, former Arrow Electronics application engineer and currently an engineer with Nimble Gravity, to talk about the growing usage of SiC tech and discuss what the future holds for SiC applications.
For companies like Microchip, SiC represents a massive business opportunity. In a strategic move in 2018, Microchip acquired Microsemi, a company that, along with a strong presence in data center and defense applications, had a turnkey SiC operation. The $10.1 billion acquisition instantly gave Microchip a foothold in the SiC space.
“Microchip has been in the power management area for many years — probably 20-plus years — and back when I started in 2000, we had a few analog products, and through acquisitions and through organic growth, we had developed a lot on the lower-power side, voltages of 100 V and less,” Esparza said. “But with the acquisition of Microsemi in 2018, we brought in high-voltage capability. That is where our silicon carbide group came from.”
While the SiC market has been slow to see global adoption, it seems that SiC as a technology has reached a critical mass, with design engineers worldwide turning to SiC as their high-power, high-voltage semiconductor of choice. According to data from Grand View Research, the SiC market was valued at about $2.96 billion in 2021 but is expected to accelerate at a compound annual growth rate of 11.7% by 2030.
Some of the growth in adoption has come from not only an increase in technologies in need of high-voltage–tolerant components but also a growing breadth in the types of SiC components that are available, Esparza said.
“It’s taken a lot of time for there to be enough device solutions out there for users to feel more comfortable,” he said. “It’s taken some time to have some solutions available for designers to legitimately consider — whether that be a voltage class, a current capability, or even a package type. There are now legitimately six really strong competitors in this area from a SiC component supplier standpoint. So there’s some selection for designers now.”
Today, the SiC manufacturers leading the charge include Microchip, Infineon, Wolfspeed, Fairchild Semiconductors, STMicroelectronics, and NXP.
Another key to the growth of the SiC market has been cost benefits as the economies of scale kick in.
As a component supplier, Microchip sees itself able to help its own suppliers drive down their costs “because there is more volume out there in the market,” Esparza said. As manufacturers drive more volume, they will reap the benefits of higher critical material utilization. “It’s been slow to get there, but it seems like we’ve really crossed a threshold,” he added.
Wendt sees the recent investments enacted by the CHIPS Act as a stark message that SiC technology is slated to be an important semiconductor technology in the future.
“The CHIPS Act is primarily focused on bringing a portion of semiconductor manufacturing to the United States,” he said. “But it is also about accelerating the development of technologies that could help position the U.S. as a stronger player in the global semiconductor market. Silicon carbide is one of those technologies. Companies like Microchip and Wolfspeed — organizations that are headquartered in the United States and are big players in the SiC space — are well-positioned to vault the United States to a position as the global leader in silicon carbide technology. With the proliferation of electric vehicles, solar, and other high-power, high-frequency applications, holding this position has the potential to be very powerful.”
As it stands today, SiC components are primarily used — from a volume perspective — in industrial applications in which high-voltage capabilities, as well as high-temperature performance, are put at a premium. Data center and computing usage are also key players in the SiC market. But there is one application area where growth is expected to soar in the coming years: automotive.
Driven by rapid adoption of EV drivetrains and charging systems, SiC is quickly becoming a star of the EV world. According to data from the 2022 Omdia Mid Case report, automotive applications will quickly grow in 2023 to represent 33% of the SiC market. But by 2030, SiC usage in automotive applications will represent as much as 78% of the technologies’ $14 billion market.
For those design engineers outside of the automotive and EV sector, Esparza believes this growth will have positive effects on the entire SiC market, including industrial, data centers/computing, communication, consumer, and aerospace and defense.
“We do see activity for silicon carbide in all these areas,” he said. “The big area you hear about is electric vehicles, and obviously, that is one of the major drivers that is enabling lower costs and more economies of scale, but similar to a lot of other automotive components, a lot of non-automotive industries, markets, and applications will benefit from that growth.”
“High-power systems of the future won’t be limited to just automotive markets,” Wendt said. “Improvements in battery technology and increased focus on alternative energy sources are already leading to changes in consumer markets. It used to be rare to see things like electric lawnmowers, chainsaws, or other power tools. Today, that’s common — and these sorts of high-voltage items can rely on SiC.”
This article was originally published on EE Times.
C.D. McGrady is a veteran of the electronic and semiconductor world, having worked for more than 10 years in the industry. With thousands of articles and blogs on technology topics, C.D. is constantly looking for the latest news and advancements in tech and innovation. Outside of work, C.D. enjoys building his own DIY electronics projects, spending time with his family, and a variety of sports.