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GaN & SiC power semiconductors: Why these devices are gaining popularity


Over the last couple of decades, the global power electronics industry has been characterized by major developments. The promise of billion-dollar revenues in the future is prompting the rising need for longer life battery on account of which this industry is moving along the lines of renewability. Power electronics market contenders, to that end, have been actively seeking the adoption of wide bandgap semiconductor technologies, such as GaN and SiC.

Industry experts are of the opinion that power semiconductors based on Gallium Nitride (GaN) and Silicon Carbide (SiC) technologies may offer a significant solution to the effective power supply across different industrial verticals, while complementing the expansion of the renewable energy segment.

A recent study by Global Market Insights Inc. speculates that the ongoing developments in the GaN and SiC power semiconductor market would enable it to surpass $4.5 billion by 2027 end, in terms of revenue.

In what may be defined as one of the latest advancements in the GaN and SiC power semiconductors industry, Infineon- a leading semiconductor manufacturing company, announced an investment of more than 2 billion euros in building a third module at its Kulim site in Malaysia. This would eventually expand the production of GaN and SiC power ICs in the region.

Why are GaN and SiC power ICs gaining traction worldwide?

Power ICs like SiC and GaN are growing in importance owing to their ability to deliver improved performance across a plethora of applications encompassing the automotive industry, power supplies, PV inverters, industrial motor drives, and others. These ICs can reduce the energy and physical space required to deliver enhanced performance when compared to the tradition silicon ICs or technologies.

As the need for energy surges, paradigm shift to GaN and SiC technology would help meet the demand while keeping carbon emissions to minimum. It has been estimated that a global Si-to-GaN data center upgrade would reduce the energy loss by 30% to 40%, which would translate as saving over 125Mtons of carbon dioxide emissions and 100 TWhr by 2030 end.

In the case of GaN, it is said that the GaN power IC chip can save nearly 80% in production and process chemicals and energy, plus more than 50% savings in packaging.

Recent developments in the GaN/SiC technology use across diverse industries would add impetus to the market expansion. To illustrate, Teledyne e2V HiRel Electronics and Integra Technologies Inc. announced an alliance to introduce 100V GaN/SiC RF technology for increased reliability defense and aerospace applications.

Deployment in hybrid/electric vehicles

Diving into another application dimension, the electric vehicle segment is projected to emerge as a profitable avenue for market growth. Reason? Progressive research and developmental activities in the space. Speaking of which, DB Hitek has embarked on the venture of research into gallium nitride and silicon carbide automotive semiconductors, given the acute semiconductor shortage.

The future of the automotive industry success lies in electric and hybrid electric vehicles. Electric car sales surpassed a record 3 million sales in 2020. According to IEA, the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario anticipates nearly 300 million EVs on the road.

EVs require compatible power electronic devices capable of effective operation at elevated temperatures. In order to meet this need, power modules are being created with semiconductors that use GaN and SiC technologies.

These technologies are becoming more popular for power electronics in automotive applications for driving down costs and increasing the demand for tools to design, testing the WBG devices, and verifying these. Both GaN and SiC are proving pivotal in areas like battery management in EVs. They are capable of handling much higher voltages than silicon and their usefulness in safety-critical applications is appealing attention in other areas.

Different automakers are vouching on developing automotive components with SiC and GaN technologies. In 2021, Hofer Powertrain and VisIC Technologies declared opening alliance for a GaN-based inverter for 800-volt automotive applications. VisIC officials state that partnership with Hofer for the development of GaN-based power inverters in EVs is a breakthrough of GaN technology for 800V battery systems in the industry.

GaN and SiC: Optimal for 5G networks

5G serves to be the latest-generation network that is poised to power the IoT in the current-day. In fact, estimations have been made that by 2025, the 5G networks are speculated to cover 1/3rd of the world’s population.

Networks running on 5G would be nearly 20 times faster than the existing 4G networks, enabling video-download speeds up to 10 times faster. This calls for high-performance power semiconductors. Enter- SiC and GaN semiconductors that are playing crucial role in 5G RF solutions, base-station power supplies, and wireless power transfer. Owing to its high frequency characteristics, gallium nitride delivers benefits over other processes for use in 5G power amplifiers.

What is next for gallium nitride and silicon carbide semiconductors?

While issues related to cost and yield linger, SiC and GaN wide bandgap semiconductors are observing a promising growth in high-temperature and high-power applications where silicon falls short. As manufacturers of different power electronic devices are ready for the multi-billion-dollar market that EVs or HEVs will bring, GaN and SiC chips are set to experience considerable demand in 2022 and beyond.

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