While silicon still dominates the market, the emergence of Wide-Bandgap devices will soon direct technology toward new, more efficient solutions.
Power electronics has taken an interesting turn toward the adoption of wide bandgap (WBG) devices such as GaN and SiC. While silicon still dominates the market, the emergence of GaN and SiC devices will soon direct technology toward new, more efficient solutions. Yole Développement (Yole) estimates that revenue from SiC devices will account for more than 10% of the market by 2025, while revenue from GaN devices will be more than 2% of the market by 2025.
Prominent suppliers of SiC power devices include STMicroelectronics, Cree/Wolfspeed, Rohm, Infineon Technologies, ON Semiconductor, and Mitsubishi Electric. For GaN, Yole Développement cites Power Integrations and Infineon as the main players, as well as innovative startups such as Navitas Semiconductor, Efficient Power Conversion (EPC), GaN Systems, and Transphorm.
Cost optimization has led many companies to develop business models for the proper supply of SiC substrates. In the period between 2018 and 2019, companies such as STMicroelectronics, Infineon, and ON Semi signed multi-year substrate supply agreements with leading SiC substrate suppliers such as Cree and SiCrystal. In the power GaN industry, to address high-volume markets, one of the main trends has been to collaborate with established foundries such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), X-Fab, or Episil Technologies.
Where Is the WBG Market Headed?
EE Times interviewed Ezgi Dogmus, Ph.D., technology & market analyst at Yole Développement, to understand more about the markets in which GaN and SiC are winning business at the moment and in which industries they are most likely to be adopted.
EE Times: How does your company evaluate the competition between GaN components, in particular for the automotive market?
Ezgi Dogmus: There are different types of GaN components and varying technology solutions depending on the application and power range. Especially in the automotive market, we see development and qualification of both low-voltage (<100 V) and high-voltage (>650 V) GaN technologies from different actors. While low-voltage GaN targets the 48- to 12-V DC/DC conversion in mild hybrid electric vehicles, the 650-V–rated GaN addresses on-board charging in electric vehicles.
EE Times: Where are GaN and SiC winning business now? In which industries are we seeing the most adoption?
Dogmus: In our understanding, the major market for SiC power devices is the electric/hybrid vehicles segment, and we expect it to be the main driver for SiC market growth. GaN devices have recently made their entry into high-power fast chargers for high-end smartphones, and this high-volume consumer market is expected to mainly feed the GaN power device market growth in the next five years.
EE Times: What does the future hold for GaN/SiC? Where do you see significant opportunities for future expansion in technology and sales?
Dogmus: Regarding sales, please refer to the previous question. Concerning the technology, the SiC power industry focuses on improving SiC wafer quality on larger diameters and power module development. In the GaN arena, the main trends are on GaN device integration — either system-in-package or system-on-chip solutions.
EE Times: How do you see the developmental status of a full SiC/GaN module today?
Dogmus: There has been significant development activity on full SiC modules, with a special focus on packaging materials such as die attach and substrate interconnections. The actors continue innovating on full-SiC modules to obtain higher-reliability and higher-power modules. Innovative embedded die GaN devices have been developed, and new designs of GaN modules are expected in the coming years for automotive applications.
EE Times: Why WBG semiconductors now?
Dogmus: In our understanding, WBGs such as SiC and GaN have already achieved a big milestone. They have already had their design wins and have started being adopted in emerging market segments such as automotive and consumer fast chargers for smartphones. Almost all the leading silicon power device manufacturers have joined either the GaN or SiC power market. The drivers for players who have chosen WBG are higher device and system performance, higher efficiency, smaller form factor, and lower system cost.
EE Times: Investment map — where and how much?
Dogmus: In the booming SiC power market, the main emphasis recently has been on the substrate side. For example, STMicroelectronics acquired SiC supplier Norstel for $137.5M in 2019. At the same time, Cree has announced an investment of $1B for SiC substrate fabrication (including both S.I. and S.C. type wafers), as well as to leverage the capacity of 8-inch equipment for fully automotive-qualified SiC products. Very recently, Korean company SK Siltron completed the acquisition of DuPont’s SiC wafer division for $450M. This is a non-exhaustive list of examples; there is also significant news in the wafer business. It is definitely of interest for SiC players to secure their wafer supply.
Meanwhile, in the power GaN business, which recently began to be adopted in emerging markets, the investments have just started to show up and are expected to continue in the next several years. For example, in Q1-2020, STMicroelectronics acquired a majority stake in French GaN startup Exagan to benefit from significant know-how and experience in GaN SiP solutions for fast-charging applications.
EE Times: Technology assessments — where are we with GaN and SiC?
Dogmus: Historically, diodes have dominated the SiC market. Looking into the future, we expect to see more and more automotive-qualified SiC MOSFETs and full SiC modules. Over the last decade, the GaN product portfolio has significantly evolved. Today, discrete GaN HEMTs, HEMTs with integrated drivers in system-in-package, and monolithically integrated GaN solutions are being deployed in markets from consumer to industrial. Actors are developing innovative device and system designs to benefit from the numerous added values of GaN.