Silicon has long been the dominant semiconductor material for devices used in power electronic converters worldwide. However, the introduction of silicon carbide in 1891 gave an alternative to this reliance on silicon. Silicon carbide (SiC) is a wide band gap semiconductor, which means the energy required to drive an electron into the conduction band is higher, and this wide band gap gives various benefits over conventional silicon-based devices. Increased bandgap provides better temperature ranges of operation without breakdown and decreased efficiency, as well as increased efficiency under typical operating conditions due to lower leakage current. This, paired with SiC’s chemical inertness, has improved its value in the power electronics sector, leading to greater adoption.
Many firms are already at the forefront of this technology, including ROHM, Infineon, Wolfspeed, Qorvo, and others. Their Presidents and Managing Directors participated in a panel discussion hosted by Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio, Editor of EE Times and Power Electronics News, on the opportunities and problems of silicon carbide in the energy sectors. The panelists were Dr. Peter Friedrichs, Vice President SiC, Infineon, John Perry, Vice President & General Manager, Discrete Power Devices, Wolfspeed, Rob Rhoades, Co-Founder and President, X-Trinsic, and Steven Shackell, Director, Power Semiconductor Global Supplier Marketing, Arrow.
The panelists introduced themselves and provided a brief overview of their company’s history, present advancements, and future plans. The participating companies face an exciting position of constantly increasing demand, and they focus on meeting this demand while preserving the quality of items for which they are known. They each offer various goods and services, with each focusing on the verticals where these silicon carbide-based gadgets find utility. Qorvo, for example, has shifted its focus to the automotive industry and its components, such as onboard chargers, as well as the IT industry in terms of power factor correction and DC-DC converters. Infineon has prioritized using these devices throughout the power system, including generation, transmission, and consumption. Apart from the different areas in which these companies operate, they also differ in terms of market experience, with ROHM being the oldest and X-trinsic being the most recent.
One significant component of this rising requirement, according to the panelists, is the rapid electrification that is taking place around the world, notably in the vehicle sector. Onboard chargers, traction inverters, and external charging stations are all direct uses for silicon carbide wafers that have contributed to the rise in demand. According to Jay Barrus, the panelists agreed that the SiC industry’s expected expansion from $2 billion in 2024 to $3.5 billion in 2025 and then gradually to $6 billion in 2030 is a pretty plausible projection given the current rate of increase. ROHM is focusing on producing larger 8-inch wafers in order to give additional services to clients. This would provide users with greater capacity, which is currently in high demand.
Dr. Rob Rhoades believes that supplying the demand for 8-inch wafers made of silicon carbide will hasten its acceptance. Electric system power density is an issue that has led to the shift towards greater capacity wafers. Wolfspeed has constructed a new fabrication unit in Mohawk Valley, New York, spanning 500,000 square feet, to produce 8-inch SiC wafers. Chris Dries believes that 6-inch wafers will be around long since they have a wide range of applications, notably in the automobile industry. Dr. Peter Friedrichs concurs.
When asked about the recent news about the decreasing cost of the 800V battery pack, John Perry responded that customers are currently vouching for increased capacity, and how the company is making efforts to increase the capacity of their components is what excites customers and their customers the most. “Of course, over time, the economy of scale, particularly in the automotive industry, will offer us significant economies of scale from new traction inverters, and the cost will come down,” Perry continued.
The current problems that businesses are facing are mostly the result of increased demand. The supply chain is stressed because it is critical to manufacture high-quality commodities in sufficient quantity to satisfy customers. “Getting the quality and the economics and being able to execute it at scale,” says John Perry, is the issue. Moving from 6-inch to 8-inch wafers brings distinct issues that burden the companies’ resources. Because of geometric constraints, each batch will contain fewer wafers, and wafer prices will also rise.
This strains the manufacturing process because these wafers must be produced with minimal losses. There is an intriguing shift toward single processing as compared to previous batch processing methodologies. This method helps to reduce the amount of wafers abandoned during an event, which would normally result in waste ranging from 12 to 28 wafers. We can expect electrification to continue on a large scale in the future, and businesses will gradually recognize the benefits of SiC and move to it, allowing it to play a significant role in the near future. The companies represented in the dialogue are taking steps to meet the anticipated increase in demand and are investing in technology that will allow them to scale quickly, allowing the transition to silicon carbide (SiC) to occur and more individuals and enterprises to participate.