During the past decade combination “silicon carbide” or more often “SiC” has become very popular in the world of power electronics. Many companies have started to evaluate the possibility of using SiC instead of Si in their projects. As many say, silicon carbide is here to replace silicon, and they might be right considering that SiC MOSFETs used in power semiconductor devices bring numerous advantages compared with their silicon counterparts.
SiC has a higher critical breakdown field and thermal conductivity and, a wider bandgap, which leads to lower energy losses, a lower leakage current at higher temperatures. Besides, SiC can operate at much higher frequencies. On a system level, it means using less additional components, better thermal management, and an overall smaller footprint.
This is one of the reasons why today automotive Tier-1 and OEM companies prefer to use SiC for their new projects in vehicle electrification. With SiC they can get the same efficiency with several times smaller package. For the electric car size and weight of power electronics systems are critical.
Working in the power semiconductors industry for many years, with Si and SiC power devices in particular, I see that the number of companies and end applications adopting silicon carbide is growing fast. Even though SiC is quite a young technology, and the first commercial SiC power MOSFET dates back to 2011, nowadays, we already have over ten SiC power device vendors who deliver high-quality products used in electric vehicles, solar inverters, public transportation, welding equipment, marine, medical and aerospace.
With the number of new SiC fabs and production expansions announced during the past three years it is clear that silicon carbide technology is here to stay, and here to grow further. Many analytical agencies predict that the total SiC market will reach 10 billion USD by 2030 or even earlier. And despite the fact that in volume SiC power semiconductors market still lags behind silicon. It grows faster, quite faster than expected several years ago.
Despite the fast growth and penetration into the power electronics market, many companies still feel uncomfortable when they hear about silicon carbide and the benefits it has. During numerous negotiations and talks with the companies using power semiconductor devices, I shortlisted the most common barriers preventing them from switching from silicon to silicon carbide, or from increasing the number of SiC-based projects they already have.
To further scale this data, recently I had a poll on LinkedIn within the power electronics community. A similar poll I ran during the latest EPE’23 ECCE Europe Conference, which was held in Aalborg, Denmark. Both polls’ participants come from power semiconductors companies or from companies using power semiconductors.
Combined poll results look like this:
- Price – 60%
- Availability – 20%
- Unclear benefits over Si – 7%
- Not enough market feedback – 13%
It is clear that price is still the major concern and barrier. Even though the price has tremendously decreased during the past ten years, it remains one of the key factors why many companies prefer to use Si-based semiconductors.
The availability of SiC wafers or SiC-based devices accounts for another 20% of doubts coming from the end users. The lead time of SiC has been discussed many times, and the situation for many stays unclear. And it is the same for the remaining 20% of poll results coming from unclear benefits of SiC and lack of market feedback. Silicon power devices have been in use for decades, while SiC is just at the beginning of its road. That is why many engineers prefer to work with the technology they know, the technology they have been very familiar with since their school.
From the first look the answers and results of the poll seem to be right and they correspond to the current market situation. However, working with Si and SiC, I know that each and every one of the answers listed are just the barriers and not the final verdict.
Semiconductor companies should pay more attention to those 20% of the answers referring to lack of market data. With the right approach SiC will bring the power semiconductors industry to a new level.