SiC technology is emerging. We explore how and where it will make a difference.
Our latest book, AspenCore Guide to Silicon Carbide, explores expanding electronics industry efforts aimed at enabling smart energy technologies.
The power electronics sector has been transitioning toward wide-bandgap materials (WBG) as silicon hits its theoretical performance limitations for power devices. WBG power semiconductor devices based on silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride technologies provide design advantages that allow improved application performance, including: low leakage current, significantly reduced power losses, higher power density, higher frequency operation and the ability to tolerate higher operating temperatures. All are possible using smaller device sizes than a silicon-only equivalents. Robustness and greater dependability are other important attributes, resulting in higher total device life expectancy and operational stability.
SiC technology arrives at the right time. Just as the global energy sustainability pushes industries to deliver cleaner, more efficient electrical power conversion, SiC power semiconductor devices have entered the development and deployment stages. The auto industry’s wholesale shift toward vehicle electrification, driven by global CO2 emission reduction objectives, helped kickstart SiC market growth, fueling product development that is expected to move SiC power devices into broader industrial, electro-mobility and renewable energy applications.
As Victor Veliadis, IEEE Fellow, executive director and CTO at PowerAmerica, notes in his foreword, “AspenCore Guide to Silicon Carbide provides an excellent in-depth discussion of key aspects of SiC power technology. It is a valuable reference for those engaged directly in deploying SiC in the field and a comprehensive introduction for those making the transition from silicon.
“It covers basic material properties, design, and fabrication of SiC devices as well as practical considerations for system insertion in high-volume applications in which SiC is displacing the dominant Si technology. The book also provides a detailed market analysis, with insights into SiC power device market dynamics and emerging trends. It is therefore a compelling read for business professionals and practicing engineers alike,” Veliadis added.
SiC devices are also being deployed in high-voltage power converters with rigorous size, weight and efficiency requirements. On-state resistance and switching losses are significantly reduced, while SiC has nearly three times the thermal conductivity of silicon, allowing components to dissipate heat more quickly. That’s significant as Si-based devices shrink in size.
The bandgap energy of silicon carbide is greater than that of silicon (3.2eV, or about three times higher than silicon, equal to 1.1eV). Higher breakdown voltages and efficiency along with better thermal stability at high temperatures are possible because more energy is required to excite a valence electron in the semiconductor’s conductive band. Smaller circuits and less weight, as well as lower total power usage are all advantages of adopting SiC technology in inverters. SiC MOSFETs can operate at a significantly greater switching frequency, allowing smaller inverter components. SiC power semiconductors may also function at greater voltages and currents than ordinary silicon power semiconductors, resulting in more power.
We also cover WBG markets, technology and applications. Technology experts provide insights into markets benefiting from the superior performance of SiC power devices. That’s followed by a discussion of the technical foundation underpinning design, fabrication and circuit implementation. Subsequent chapters cover major SiC device applications, including electric vehicles, renewable energy, motor control, aerospace and defense.
Adds Veliadis, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina University: “Each chapter is a practical overview of its subject matter and a must-read for anyone who wants to stay on the leading edge of power SiC technology.”
Automotive, smart energy: SiC growth drivers
Aggressive goals for cutting CO2 emissions will require a complete overhaul of global energy production. Wind and solar power, frequently combined with energy storage, are among the fastest-growing industries. SiC technology is at the heart of these solutions.
Among the growth drivers for SiC are hybrid and electric vehicles, as discussed by Ezgi Dogmus and Ana Villamor of market analyst Yole Développement. The analysts trace SiC’s rise in the automotive market to 2017, when Tesla adopted the technology for its main inverter. Other EV makers soon followed. Yole projects the automotive SiC market — including on-board charger and DC/DC applications as well as inverters — will exceed $2 billion by 2026.
The industry is betting that automotive platforms will serve as a springboard for SiC’s expansion into more power electronics, enabling technological maturation that will spawn higher device yields and more affordable devices. Our analysis looks at key players in the SiC supply chain and examines the issues around SiC wafer supply and capacity.
For smart energy applications, SiC delivers a dielectric strength 10 times that of silicon, thereby enabling devices operating at higher voltage while meeting operational requirements for charging infrastructure and smart grids. Operating at a higher switching frequency also provides multiple benefits. SiC’s higher switching frequency allows designers to reduce the physical size of magnets, the inductors that are part of the filters, or transformers that can be smaller when using high frequency. Meanwhile, low harmonics due to the higher switching frequency allow for significant improvements in motor efficiency.
In both automotive and industrial settings, energy solutions based on SiC materials are increasing. Creating wafers remains a far more complicated process than that used for silicon wafers. With demand for SiC devices growing, manufacturers must find wafer suppliers.
Our latest book also includes contributions from executives at key semiconductor companies involved in SiC production, including their perspectives on SiC technology’s future. The discussion includes likely market drivers for SiC growth beyond vehicle electrification, including photovoltaic inverters and energy storage, UPS systems, power supply units for data servers and industrial motor drives.
The supply chain problems that dogged the WBG sector have eased. Still, industry executives stress the importance of OEM partnerships with Tier-1 suppliers to ensure that device supplies are adequate to meet growing demand.
The Aspencore Guide to Silicon Carbide available at the EE Times store.
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Nitin Dahad is a correspondent for EE Times, EE Times Europe and also Editor-in-Chief of embedded.com. With 35 years in the electronics industry, he’s had many different roles: from engineer to journalist, and from entrepreneur to startup mentor and government advisor. He was part of the startup team that launched 32-bit microprocessor company ARC International in the US in the late 1990s and took it public, and co-founder of The Chilli, which influenced much of the tech startup scene in the early 2000s. He’s also worked with many of the big names—including National Semiconductor, GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Dialog Semiconductor and Marconi Instruments.
Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.