Today's wide-bandgap semiconductors, including GaN and SiC, are exceeding the capabilities of traditional silicon-based devices.
The power electronics market, driven by wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor devices, is expected to grow by a 4.3% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2025 to a level around $22 billion. Power transistors are expected to be the largest and fastest growing segment of the discrete semiconductor industry, with much of this growth being driven by new energy efficiency-related applications and technologies for electric vehicles (EV), hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), energy storage applications, motor drives and inverters, power conversion, and even for upcoming Urban Air Mobility (UAM systems).
Regulatory and economic pressures continue to push the state-of-the-art in industrial and other high-voltage power electronics toward designs that are smaller, faster, and more efficient. The power-density advantages of smaller and lighter designs are particularly evident in space-constrained and/or mobile usages such as electric vehicles, but compact power electronics are more broadly desirable as well, especially from the standpoint of reduced system cost. At the same time, efficiency is growing in importance as governments introduce financial incentives and more stringent energy-efficiency regulations.
What trends will drive the industry? Will the supply chain issue ease up soon? How will the electronics/semiconductor manufacturing landscape look like? In this month’s In Focus, find out what manufacturers expect to happen in the industry, and what they hope for, or wish for, in the coming year.
The need to enact greater energy efficiency in power electronics stretches from the point of power generation to the point of consumption. Power converters operate at multiple stages throughout the generation, transmission, and consumption chain, and because none of those operations is 100% efficient, some power loss occurs at each step. Chiefly due to energy lost as heat, these reductions in overall efficiency multiply throughout the cycle.
Likewise, in addition to increasing efficiency, reducing the size and weight of power-conversion equipment is critical. Smaller, lighter-weight components typically correspond to lower capital expense (CAPEX), which complements the reductions in operating expense (OPEX) associated with greater efficiency. In addition, the efficiency, size, and weight of power equipment are critical design aspects for many applications. In the context of an electric vehicle, for example, all three factors contribute to increasing the range of the vehicle between charges, while lower equipment cost helps in the effort to bring overall vehicle cost to parity with that of conventional vehicles.
A critical challenge facing the power electronics industry as it works both to reduce physical size and to increase energy efficiency is that these design goals typically compete with one another. For example, increasing the switching frequency of converter circuits allows the size of components such as inductors, transformers, and capacitors to be reduced. That helps enable more compact devices, at lower production cost. On the other hand, higher switching frequencies also generate additional heat. Accordingly, the power lost through that heat can create product quality and OPEX concerns associated with reduced energy efficiency.
Today’s wide-bandgap semiconductors including gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SiC) are exceeding the capabilities of traditional silicon-based devices. Electrically, these substances are closer to insulators than silicon and other typical semiconductor materials. Their adoption is an effort to overcome limitations of silicon that stem from it being a narrow bandgap material, which leads to undesirable conductive leakages that become more pronounced with increases in temperature, voltage, or frequency. GaN and SiC typically have much higher power density, smaller size, better high temperature performance, higher frequency response, lower leakage, and lower ON resistance than silicon, all of which add up to greater operating efficiency.
Of the two wide-bandgap materials, GaN is suited primarily to low- to mid-range power implementations, under approximately one kilovolt and 100 amps. A notable area of growth for GaN is its use in LED lighting, and usage is growing for additional low-power usages such as electronics power supplies and RF power amplifiers. By contrast, the technologies surrounding SiC are both better developed than GaN and better suited to higher power implementations such as power transmission, large-scale HVAC equipment, and industrial systems. Compared to silicon metal-oxide-semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs), SiC MOSFETS are capable of operating at higher voltages and higher temperatures. Under these conditions, SiC provides higher performance, efficiency, power density, and reliability. This combination of benefits is helping designers reduce the size, weight, and cost of power converters, making them more competitive especially in lucrative market segments such as aerospace, military, and electric vehicles.
Like all manufacturers, Tektronix hopes to see a resolution to the various supply chain issues. Strong demand triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has created widespread semiconductor shortages and resulted in higher inflation costs across the global supply chain in both material and freight. Over the past year (and a half), Tektronix has leveraged our business process capabilities and continuous improvement efforts to mitigate a significant portion of the cost impact from these difficult supply chain conditions.
Tektronix is focused on continuing to innovate its supply chain and manufacturing capabilities to reduce the production cycle, allowing us to bring new product innovations to market even faster. As always, we remain committed to creating the most innovative products that are high in quality, reliability, as well as provide for sustainable solutions, given our company’s corporate responsibility vision of accelerating progress towards a sustainable future for all.
About the Author
Jonathan Tucker is a Power Market Segment Manager at Tektronix.