While silicon has been the primary semiconductor material for devices used in power electronic converters around the world for quite some time, the invention of silicon carbide in 1891 led to an alternative to ease the reliance on silicon. SiC is a wide-bandgap semiconductor: The energy required to excite an electron into the conduction band is higher, and this wide bandgap has multiple advantages over standard silicon-based devices.

The higher bandwidth helps provide higher temperature ranges of operation without breakdown and reduced efficiency, and has higher efficiency under normal conditions due to lower leakage current. This, combined with its chemically inert nature, further cemented SiC’s value in power electronics, leading to a boom in its use.

Many companies are already at the forefront of this technology, such as Rohm, Infineon, Wolfspeed and Qorvo. The presidents and managing directors of these companies sat down for a panel discussion on the prospects and challenges of SiC in the energy markets at this year’s PowerUP Expo, moderated by Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio, editor-in-chief of EEWeb and Power Electronics News and editor of EE Times. The panel consisted of Jay Barus, president of ROHM Semiconductor USA; Chris Dries, general manager of Qorvo Power Device Solutions; Peter Friedrichs, vice president of SiC at Infineon Technologies; John Perry, vice president and general manager of Discrete Power Devices at Wolfspeed; Rob Rhodes, Co-Founder and President of X-Trinsic; and Stephen Shackle, Director of Global Power Semiconductor Supplier Marketing at Arrow Electronics.

The panelists introduced themselves and gave some background on their companies, including recent developments and future visions. The companies find themselves in a very interesting position of ever-increasing demand, and their focus has been to meet that demand while maintaining the quality of products that each of them is known for. They offer unique products and services, each focusing on the different verticals where these SiC-based devices find application. For example, Qorvo focuses more on the automotive industry and its components such as embedded chargers and the IT industry regarding power factor correction and DC/DC converters.

Infineon focuses on the deployment of these devices throughout the power system, i.e. production, transmission and consumption. Besides the wide variety of industries these companies operate in, they also differ in their market experience, with Rohm being the oldest and X-Trinsic the newest company represented on the panel.

Panelists agreed that an important aspect of this increased demand is the rapid electrification seen around the world, particularly in the automotive sector. Various aspects of the electric vehicle, from on-board chargers to traction inverters to outdoor charging stations, are direct applications for SiC wafers and have contributed to the growth of this demand. Rohm’s Barrus mentioned that this industry is expected to grow from $2 billion in 2024 to $3.5 billion in 2025 and then slowly grow to $6 billion in 2030, which the panelists agreed , that is a fairly modest forecast for the growth they are currently witnessing. To provide more services to customers, Rohm is shifting its focus to producing larger, 8-inch wafers that open up more capacity for customers, which is in demand these days.

According to X-Trinsic’s Rhoades, meeting this demand for 8-inch wafers will further accelerate their adoption. The power density of systems in EVs is an important factor and has contributed to this shift for higher capacity wafers. Wolfspeed has a new manufacturing facility in Mohawk Valley, New York that spans 500,000 square feet and is built to produce 8-inch wafers. Although 8-inch wafers offer more capacity, 6-inch wafers are here to stay as they still find a wide range of applications, particularly in the automotive sector, said Dries of Qorvo, whose sentiment was echoed by Friedrichs of Infineon.

Wolfspeed’s Perry, when asked about the latest news on the declining cost of the 800-V battery, said that customers are now vouching for increased capacity, and how the company is making efforts to increase the capacity of its components is what excites customers the most. Perry also mentioned that “obviously over time the economies of scale, especially in the automotive industry, will give us huge economies of scale from the new traction inverters and the costs will come down.”

Applications of Silicon Carbide in Industry

In terms of the challenges facing companies right now, much of it is due to growing demand. This puts a lot of pressure on the supply chain, as it is necessary not only to design quality products, but also to ensure that enough products exist to be delivered to customers. In Perry’s words, the challenge is to “get the quality and the economics and be able to do it at scale.” The very transition from 6- to 8-inch wafers is a challenge in itself that will push companies’ capabilities to the edge. The number of wafers per batch will decrease due to geometric constraints, and the cost of individual wafers also increases. This puts a strain on the production process itself so that these wafers can be synthesized without much loss. An interesting shift is towards single processing compared to the already existing batch processing methods. This method helps to limit the number of wafers that are lost in an event that would otherwise result in waste ranging between 12 and 28 wafers.

In the future, Electrification is expected to continue to grow on a massive scale, and SiC will play a big role soon as more companies realize its benefits and start switching to it. As for the companies featured in the talk, they are ready to meet the expected increase in demand and are investing in technologies that will help them scale so that the transition to SiC can happen smoothly and more people and companies can become part of it.


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