Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Silicon carbide (SiC) counterviews at APEC 2024

Silicon carbide (SiC) counterviews at APEC 2024

At this yr’s APEC in Lengthy Seaside, California, Wolfspeed CEO Gregg Lowe’s speech was a serious spotlight of the convention program. Lowe, the chief of the one vertically built-in silicon carbide (SiC) firm and cheerleader of this energy electronics expertise, didn’t disappoint.

In his plenary presentation, “The Drive for Silicon Carbide – A Look Again and the Street Forward – APEC 2024,” he known as SiC a market hitting the most important inflection level. “It’s a narrative of 4 a long time of American ingenuity at work, and it’s protected to say that the transition from silicon to SiC is unstoppable.”

Determine 1 Lowe: The way forward for this superb expertise is simply starting to daybreak on the world at giant, and inside the subsequent decade or so, we’ll go searching and surprise how we lived, traveled, and labored with out it. Supply: APEC

Lowe informed the APEC 2024 attendees that the demand for SiC is exploding, and so is the variety of functions utilizing this broad bandgap (WBG) expertise. “Know-how transitions like this create moments and reminiscences that final a lifetime, and that’s the place we’re with SiC proper now.”

Curiously, simply earlier than Lowe’s presentation, Balu Balakrishnan, chairman and CEO of Energy Integrations, raised questions in regards to the viability of SiC expertise throughout his presentation titled “Innovating for Sustainability and Profitability”.

Balakrishnan’s counterviews

Whereas telling the Energy Integrations’ gallium nitride (GaN) story, Balakrishnan narrated how his firm began closely investing in SiC 15 years in the past and spent $65 million to develop this WBG expertise. “Someday, sitting in my workplace, whereas doing the mathematics, I spotted this isn’t going to work for us due to the quantity of power it takes to fabricate SiC and that the price of SiC is a lot greater than silicon,” he stated.

“This expertise won’t ever be as cost-effective as silicon regardless of its higher efficiency as a result of it’s such a high-temperature materials, which takes a humongous quantity of power,” Balakrishnan added. “It requires costly gear since you manufacture SiC at very excessive temperatures.”

The following day, Energy Integrations cancelled its SiC program and wrote off $65 million. “We determined to discontinue not due to expertise, however as a result of we imagine it’s not sustainable and it’s not going to be cost-effective.” he stated. “That day, we converted to GaN and doubled down on it as a result of it’s low-temperature, operates at temperatures just like silicon, and principally makes use of identical gear as silicon.”

Determine 2 Balakrishnan: GaN will ultimately be cheaper than silicon for high-voltage switches. Supply: APEC

So, why does Energy Integrations nonetheless have SiC product choices? Balakrishnan acknowledged that SiC can go to increased voltages and energy ranges and is a extra mature expertise than GaN as a result of it began earlier.

“There are particular functions the place SiC may be very engaging right this moment, however I’ll dare to say that GaN will get there generally sooner or later,” he added. “Basically, there isn’t something mistaken with taking GaN to increased voltages and energy ranges.” He talked about a 1,200 GaN system Energy Integrations not too long ago introduced and claimed that his firm plans to announce one other GaN system with even a better voltage very quickly.

Balakrishnan acknowledged that there are issues to be solved. “However these challenges require R&D efforts reasonably than a expertise breakthrough,” he stated. “We imagine that GaN will get to the purpose the place it’ll be very aggressive with SiC whereas being far cheaper to construct.”

Lowe’s protection

In his speech, Lowe additionally acknowledged the SiC-related value and manufacturability points, calling them near-term turbulence. Nonetheless, he was optimistic that undersupply vs demand points encompassing crystal boules, substrate functionality, wafering, and epi might be resolved by the top of this decade.

“We’ll proceed to understand higher financial worth with SiC by transferring from 150-mm to 200-mm wafers, which will increase the world by 1.7x and reduces the associated fee by about 40%,” he stated. His hopes for resolving value and manufacturability points additionally appeared to lie in an enormous funding in SiC expertise and the automotive trade as a serious catalyst.

For a actuality examine on these counterviews in regards to the viability of SiC, an organization coping with each SiC and GaN companies may supply a balanced perspective. Therefore, Navitas’ sales space at APEC 2024, the place the corporate’s VP of company advertising and marketing, Stephen Oliver, defined the evolution of SiC wafer prices.

He stated a 6-inch SiC wafer from Cree value almost $3,000 in 2018. Quick ahead to 2024, a 7-inch wafer from Wolfspeed (renamed from Cree) prices about $850. Transferring ahead, Oliver envisions that the associated fee may come right down to $400 by 2028 whereas being constructed on 12-inch to 15-inch SiC wafers.

Navitas, a pioneer within the GaN area, acquired startup GeneSiC in 2022 to cater to each WBG applied sciences. On the present, along with Gen-4 GaNSense Half-Bridge ICs and GaNSafe, which includes circuit safety performance, Navitas additionally displayed Gen-3 Quick SiC energy FETs.

Within the last evaluation, Oliver’s viewpoint about SiC tilted towards Lowe’s pragmatism in SiC’s shift from 150-mm to 200-mm wafers. The latest expertise historical past is a testomony to how financial system of scale has been in a position to handle value and manufacturability points, and that’s what the SiC camp is relying on.

An enormous funding in SiC system innovation and the backing of the automotive trade must also be useful alongside the best way.

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