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Gearing up for electric vehicles with Soitec’s SmartSiC substrates


Offering a ten-fold reuse of single-crystal SiC and a ten times better conductivity than its conventional counterpart, SmartSiC is poised to revolutionise the production of power electronics for electric vehicles and industrial applications BY Olivier Bonnin, Eric Guiot, Walter Schwarzenbach, Noémie Ballot AND Céline Tranquillin FROM SOITEC

If humankind has one task of utter urgency it is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Following decades of spiralling emissions, we are now living in an age of catastrophic environmental and demographic damage, and without drastic action this situation is only going to get worse.

A significant share of today's greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, traditionally a significant polluter. But this sector is embarking on a once-in-a-century transformation, driven by researchers, industries, institutions and customers - all stakeholders in the transportation ecosystem - coming together to shape a greener future. Sitting at the very heart of this industrial revolution are electric vehicles, the key driver to slashing carbon dioxide emissions associated with mobility.

Fuelling the uptake of the EV are falling prices, longer driving ranges and rapid charging times. Crucial to further advances in performance, which will spur sales to reach new heights, is the optimisation of the powertrain. It's a task attracting intense, cutting-edge R&D. In every EV the direct current from the battery is transformed into an AC form that drives the traction motors. The efficiency of the inverter that performs this function governs the efficiency of the drivetrain - increasing this is essential for improving EV performance..

Tesla, the world-famous pioneer of the EV, started introducing SiC devices into its vehicles in 2018. Since then, devices made from this wide bandgap semiconductor have been the undisputed and optimal choice for managing power conversion in drivetrains and on-board chargers. Note that the compelling case for SiC is only going to strengthen when the EV industry shifts from 400 V to 800 V systems for fast chargers. Due to this, penetration of SiC-based devices in EVs is to climb over the next decade from 30 percent to 70 percent, against a backdrop of an ever-increasing number of vehicles sold per year (see Figure 1).